This may make some of you angry, but just know I give this advice because I want you to succeed. If you want to improve as a writer, there’s one personal thing you must do beyond writing a lot and continuing to learn the craft: stay humble. Yup, it’s that simple.
If you want to improve as a writer, few things will stunt your growth quite like having an over-inflated ego. Especially when you’re an unaccomplished, unproven amateur. And I don’t say that with any malice. Far too many young writers receive positive feedback from friends and family and suddenly think they’re the next Kafka.
Here’s the thing, though, your friends and family are unlikely to be real with you. To put it another way, do you think your mom will really tell you that your writing sucks kangaroo balls? No, she’ll probably give you kind “helpful” feedback, at worst. What you need are people who won’t stroke your ego. You need people who aren’t afraid to tell you when your work is subpar and are willing to offer you constructive criticism.
Here’s why it’s important to stay humble. You must be willing to take criticism in a non-offensive way and understand that you aren’t being attacked. If you have an ego and think you’re the next Hemingway, you’ll assume everything you touch is gold and nobody has the right to question your work. Well, good luck selling that shit to a publisher.
We’ve have some wild submissions in the past ourselves. On more than one occasion we’ve had people get upset when we’d rejected their work. I even give feedback on why their submissions were rejected and how to improve, but certain people can’t handle it and act very unprofessional. I’ll tell you right now, if you act like a child, you’ll get blackballed from a whole lot of publications. If you have an ego, nobody will want to work with you.
When you work with editors and publishers, your original story/novel will get changed a lot. And that change will come from many different people. Sure, as a writer it’s easy to become defensive when someone wants to change your work. After all, your novel is your baby. You wouldn’t want someone to tell you how to raise your kid, right? Well, in the writing industry things are a bit different.
When editors and publishers want to change your story, they do it because they want the work to be as successful as possible. This doesn’t mean you have to accept every idea and change they want to make, but it does mean you need to learn how to listen. If you vehemently refuse every single change they suggest to your original work, they’ll probably drop you.
It’s like being the star quarterback on a mediocre team. Yes, the team needs you, but that doesn’t mean you have free range to do whatever you want. If you’re an unproven author (star quarterback on a losing team), you must do what’s best for the team (or they’ll trade your sorry ass). This doesn’t just go for new writers, though. Even if you have some success, you can find yourself on the outs of the industry if you burn enough bridges. Having an ego is the quickest way to make people dislike you. Putting out profitable books is a team effort, but nobody wants to work hard as a team when the leader is a real knob.
To scale things down, let’s jump back to the new author. If you’re just starting out, you’re not good. I don’t care what people tell you, how much positive feedback your friends and family give, you suck. Now, don’t get down on yourself. This is the nature of the game. We all suck at first—even the greatest writers. That’s because a writer must find their voice, writing style, and audience who connects with all that. When you start out, you’re just telling stories.
The best thing a young author can do is stay humble and understand their limitations. Once you do this you can begin to focus on improving. The first thing is to start sharing your work with strangers and listening to the feedback you get. Don’t just Trump your way through the feedback process, either. Actually take something away from it. Listen to what people are telling you and see what recurring problems come up in your work. This is the fastest way to improve.
If you have an ego and don’t listen to anyone, you’ll drift through life without changing much as a writer (or person, for that matter). Being humble is more than just keeping your ego in check; it’s about listening, learning, and growing as a person. Failure teaches us many great lessons, but one of the most important lessons is that we aren’t and will never be perfect. Remember that and you’ll go far in this world.
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