Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Humility v. Hubris

The idea of humility has been cropping up a lot in writing blogs lately. I even got on the band wagon over at Confident Writing.

At first it might seem funny that writers should yammer on about the humility of writing when the process of writing itself would seem to involve something more like self-aggrandizing hubris. In order to write anything in the first place, much less put it out for public scrutiny, writers have to believe that someone would care about what we have to say. That strikes me as hubris.
How dare I think that anyone might care what I think or have experienced?

Fiction writers basically play God, creating worlds ab initio and then, not unlike the Olympians, throwing down challenges for our characters and, basically, causing havoc in the world we created. How can that process involve humility?

It's humbling to struggle with a scene or a character, trying to describe the action in a way that might engage a reader. For me it generally takes between three and six rewrites before I feel I've done the best I can. The editing process not only improves the writing, but it generally sands away any remaining hubris that may linger from the early part of the endeavor. It is humbling when readers (who are often writers I have come to respect) take the time to read what I have written and share their thoughts.

There are times when a writer can't ever get a story to work and has to abandon it. There also are times when she shares a story and the critics hate it and nobody wants to buy it. That part of the process is not so much humbling as it is potentially humiliating.

Why do it at all? For me the answer is: because I have to. It is something I was Called to do. That is the most humbling part of all: that I should be called to participate in the Great Conversation of Story-telling.


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