Sunday, February 10, 2013

Seven Deadly Sins of Writing - Pride

Aren't these clouds amazing? They hung over the eastern horizon during sunset, so this is all reflected light.

There's something about reflected light that's softer, more subtle than light directly from the source. The sun burns in exothermic glory, sending life-giving radiation into the universe, while the moon reflects it back, modulating the colors, mirroring the shine from the other side of the world to brighten our nights.

Two faces of the coin, which is how the Seven Deadly Sins also work. What can be a virtue can also be a tragic flaw. Take pride, for example.

Pride can be confusing because it's important to have pride in ourselves and in our work. If we're not proud of the work we do, there's a problem. If we don't take pride in ourselves, other people can treat us as doormats. American culture in particular is built on the precept that we can be proud of ourselves, regardless of our class, wealth or station in life.

We're forever telling our kids and spouses that we're proud of them. There are few compliments more moving than to hear that someone you care about and admire is proud of you. We tell each other, "hey, you finished a novel - you should be proud of that!"

So why is pride a sin?

Now, I'm going to back up and caveat that I come from a Catholic family. The Irish Catholic kind with aunts and uncles who are nuns and priests. My parents attended Catholic schools. Sin is a big deal in that kind of background. However, I'm not a practicing Catholic. I don't believe in original sin and I don't think I need to confess my sins to anyone. But sin is a far older idea than the Catholic church. As was the church's Borg-like method of assimilation, they co-opted older traditions into the canon.

Looked at that way, a sin is not failing grade on the Good Catholic report card that must be absolved before you can pass go, collect $200 and enter heaven. Instead, a sin is that thing which escapes your control that runs you instead of you running it.

You know the old saying "pride goeth before a fall"? (Yes, from Proverbs, but that's Old Testament, so predates the Catholic Church.) What that means is, if pride is running you, you'll lose that right before you suffer a loss. Because when pride runs us, we think we're above the slings and arrows that others suffer.

Not true.

So, what mistakes do writers make as a result of the tragic side of Pride?

  • Thinking we've made it. A publication does not mean success. A three-book deal is not the E-Ticket to the Cinderella ride. Getting a book published means getting an entry-level job at the big corporation. Anyone who thinks differently is in for some pain.
  • Believing we've succeeded because we're Just That Good. I think of this anytime some published author offers the advice to pre-pubs to "just write a really good book." This is especially noxious if it's their first book. Luck, serendipity and persistence are equally, if not more, important. Anyone who doesn't acknowledge that is fooling themselves.
  • Pumping ourselves up at the expense of others. I've published with a better house than such-and-so. I write faster. I write more consistently. My books are in x genre which is far superior to y genre. My books do or don't feature this kind of element, therefore mine are more erudite. I don't have to say more on this, right?
  • Being too proud to take advice. This is a hard one, because it dances near to the line of knowing when to stand up for your work, and when to recognize that someone else sees what you don't. But this post is about extremes - so those Big Name writers who decided they're Far Too Wonderful to be edited? I'm looking at you.
In all of these, sustaining pride becomes more important than the thing we were proud of in the first place.

Any other ways you all see writers letting pride get in the way?


14 comments:

  1. I love this post. LOVE!

    I recently got an email from a new editor that said she'd be looking for some revisions in the manuscript and was I amenable to that? I was so freaking confused by the question that I even thought it was a trick for a while. OF COURSE I'm open to revisions. I WANT to be edited.

    There's an author I know. Not a NYT bestseller or anything, just someone who's been at a certain house for several years now. She announced (very proudly) the last time I saw her that the house took her word over her editor's now without question. I was mortified (especially since I'd read some of her work and knew that she refused to even take FACTUAL corrections). Not cool. At all.

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  2. Wow - that's just amazing, Seleste! One can just imagine how her pride might be punctured before she falls.

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    1. Hit me up at RT and I'll tell you stories. They will make your hair curl up in frustration.

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  3. "Instead, a sin is that thing which escapes your control that runs you instead of you running it."

    That's the first time I've heard sin described that way ... and I love it.

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    1. Thanks KAK - that has always made more sense to me than anything else!

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  4. Great post, Jeffe. I like the way you define sin. I know preachers who could learn from your succinctness.

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    1. Thanks Keena! Just call me Pastor Jeffe. :D And *I* always tip 18-20%, too!

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  5. I would agree with your definition of sin. Sin is a slippery slope. Certain things are fine until you cross the line. For me when I start trying to justify my actions on something I am doing all the time and not even believing them myself I realize I am heading down that slope and need to get back up before I let it control me. I can't imagine an author not wanting to be edited. I would think that would NOT be taking pride in their work. When they began they wanted to put the best thing out there for readers and knew that editors would help them achieve that goal. Now do they not care? They just assume they have made a name for themselves already so whatever they put out will sell regardless? I guess that would be the other pride.

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    1. Most authors don't understand it, it's true - and would agree that taking pride in their work means having it scrupulously edited. But there are those who so believe in their own "rightness," like Seleste's acquaintance above, that they can't believe that they're fallible. I think the Christians would call that "false pride."

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  6. Exactly. Pride is a good thing. The sin comes in taking it too far, holding up false pride to cover insecurity, and using 'pride' to knock someone else down. That's why I like the word 'hubris' in place of pride in all those bad instances. Great post yet again, Jeffe. =o)

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    1. Oh yes - "hubris" is a great word to convey that!

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  7. E ticket. Definitely. Cinderella ride was definitely an E ticket. Definitely.

    /* Everything I know about Disneyland, I learned from Julie Brown. And "Night of the Comet". */

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    1. Dammit, Kev - you're right. I'll fix it.

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