WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Is Self-Publishing His New Novel

Self-loathing: a writer’s disease

file2061293827884

I hate myself for bringing this up, but apropos of last week’s lament, let’s talk about the symbiotic relationship between writing and self-loathing. The NYT ran a piece a while back in which two other writers noticed this and riffed a bit on it.

Thomas Mallon (author of eight novels and professor of English at George Washington University), observes that if writing is a way to achieve immortality, the competition is stiff. You have to have a strident ego to think that your words are eternity-worthy, but when you take your shot at immortality these days you’re really nothing but a small fish in an infinite pond. Thanks, in part says Mallon, to — what else? — self-publishing! Plus, get this, PayPal magnate Peter Thiel is even working on a way to sweep death itself under the carpet, making “immortality,” as we understand it, moot.

Self-loathing is natural when your desire to express yourself in writing becomes trivial.

The second self-loather is Anna Holmes (online writer and editor, founder of Jezebel.com), who points out that the success we all yearn for as writers is really luck- and connection-dependent, and the trial of fire you have to go through to achieve it is an illusion. The system is “unmeritocratic,” but go ahead: Knock yourself out.

Holmes, like Mallon, considers technology, since she mainly writes in the digital realm, concluding that the Internet has allowed many worthy, creative minds to enter the fray (even if they’re amateurs), which has also caused increased competition for eyeballs. If Andy Warhol was right and everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes, the new notion might be that everyone will publish at least one book. It’s hard not to fall into a little self-loathing when you realize you’re just like everyone else.

Technological stuff aside, self-loathing has probably always been at least one ingredient in the psychology of writing going all the way back to Homer. We are mortal. We only have so much time. Most of that time we’re inadequate or confused and we can’t do what we set out to do. Our victories are temporary. We can never stop or we lose that chance at immortality we subconsciously crave. (I wasn’t aware that I was craving it, at least. As ephemeral as books are becoming, it doesn’t seem like climbing aboard them for a trip to immortality is all that wise.)

But we writers also have a competitive inferiority complex, which is usually part of the reason we write. We didn’t get enough attention somewhere along the way, so we need to be heard now. Something unjust happened to us as kids and needs to be avenged. Self-loathing is a powerful stimulus — the gift that keeps on giving — because our goal is to overcome it by writing stuff that is admired, even loved, and all you need is love, I’ve heard.

Do you suffer a tad of writerly self-loathing?

Fess up and discuss in the comments…

Advertisements

26 comments on “Self-loathing: a writer’s disease

  1. ericjbaker
    July 21, 2015

    Interesting. I feel like I’m at once more pragmatic yet equally quixotic in my writing objectives. I work very hard at my craft and feel there should be some reward for it. I don’t care if my name is on the front cover of my novel or if my picture appears on the back. I’m not looking for critical praise. I want to write the best thing I can write, and I want people to buy it and like it and buy the next thing I write. I want to get paid, in other words.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 21, 2015

      I used to write because I had a millions things I wanted to write or had to write. Now I seem to do it because that’s just what I do. Getting paid, though, turns out to be harder than I thought!

  2. Dylan Hearn
    July 21, 2015

    I’m not sure if I suffer from self-loathing, but me and it’s close cousin, the imposter syndrome, get on real fine.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 21, 2015

      I hear that. Maybe a fiction writer’s biggest fiction is his own persona!

  3. kingmidget
    July 21, 2015

    Absolutely! Why do you think I’m not doing much writing these days? Thanks, by the way, for this post. My list of 2,381 reasons I’m not writing is now at 2,382.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 21, 2015

      That’s a number that only gets bigger, I’m afraid…

  4. Self-loathing has laid the foundation for some of my best and worst work. Now, it sits on my shoulder, as I write, muttering, “what a piece of contrived claptrap”. I’ve learned to nod and give it a pat, saying reassuringly, “yes, yes, I know”. If one can learn to write through that, there are very few good excuses for not writing.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 21, 2015

      Yes, we get to know our self-loathing very well, don’t we? Our old, dear friend…

  5. sknicholls
    July 21, 2015

    Self-loathing is the worst possible scenario. I’m a happy person, and I love me. I’m learning to love me even more whether or not I meet my expectations of myself. I even like me. Most of this has come about by not really giving a flying flip if others do or don’t.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 21, 2015

      Sounds absolutely healthy!

    • ericjbaker
      July 21, 2015

      I don’t know if we can trust her, Kevin. She almost seems… normal?

      • Kevin Brennan
        July 21, 2015

        She IS strangely normal. I mean, who doesn’t like to eat fish? If she’d said, I like to eat doorknobs, I might start to hope for something special…

      • sknicholls
        July 21, 2015

        My psychiatrist says I am normal…today.

      • Kevin Brennan
        July 21, 2015

        Sounds solid to me!

  6. John W. Howell
    July 21, 2015

    Much of what you say is true. It is interesting that those who are successful can pontificate about self-loathing as if they want us to talk them out of it.”Oh, no, look at all the wonderful stuff you’ve written.”

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 21, 2015

      I’ll never forget what my 4th grade teacher said once, when I told her the drawing I’d done wasn’t very good. She said, “You’re right. It’s lousy.”

  7. pinklightsabre
    July 21, 2015

    Is it that we flip the loathing into loving in a Narcissistic fashion? Or craving to feel real, which sounds teenager-like as I write it? And what’s so wrong about teenager-like? I got my voice from Morrissey, and his Keats/Yeats…Wilde. Co-mingling of souls. Better to try the karaoke just once, maybe twice. Thanks for picking at the scab, that felt good.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 21, 2015

      That’s the thing about scabs: they seem to want to be picked at.

      I guess the teenage years are when most of us get the itch, but it’s also when you learn that you’re not all that. Oh, what to do?!

      • pinklightsabre
        July 21, 2015

        What to do is right. Is “write” bla ha ha!

  8. francisguenette
    July 21, 2015

    I don’t think self-loathing fits me as a writer. I love to write and I take my work with a healthy dose of salt – I might be able to come up with a great idea or a memorable character but only hard, hard work will make a story out of those things. Self loathing is a concept that certainly suits me as a writer who promotes her own work. Now there is a ripe field for loathing. I buy into the concept that no one can buy a book they’ve never heard of and no one is going to hear of my book if I don’t tell them about it but figuring out when and where and how to do that can sure bring on the loathing full force. If anyone out there knows a way of getting out the author message without ending up feeling like an unsavoury snake oil salesperson (no offence meant to regular snake oil salespeople) please let me know.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 21, 2015

      So true, Fran! The peddling brings out the worst aspect of all of this. You start to wonder if your stuff is worth the 99 cents you’re hoping for… Arrrrggghhhhh!

  9. 1WriteWay
    July 22, 2015

    I lean toward Eric’s comment: I’m pragmatic about my writing but I wouldn’t be writing if I didn’t have some fantasy of getting published. I did start writing as a way to be heard, to tell my stories, my view of life. I’ve always preferred writing to speaking. Even at work, I’m more likely to write an email to someone than to call them on the phone. When I write, I can make sure that I’m saying what I want (and need) to say. But with speech, one of my feet inevitably finds my mouth. That said, I’m less concerned with getting paid than with getting published. I’m planning to submit my shorter works (stories, poems) to any PRINT journal that might publish me. I emphasize print journals because, frankly, I think too many people are out there “creating” online journals without a real business plan, a real intent to keep the journal going and so my lowly story, poem recedes into the darkness of etherspace. One could argue the same could be true of print journals (how many of them survive their first year). But … remember my post about the college literary journal I was published in. Yes, at least with print journals I can have a hard copy to keep for the next 40 years. A printout of a blog post isn’t the same.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 22, 2015

      I’m totally the same way, Marie. Usually I can express myself with no trouble in writing, but I’m not a good speaker because — I’m guessing — my mind goes faster than my mouth. In writing you have a chance to think and revise!

      As for submitting to journals, I stopped that some time ago because I got tired of getting rejected by grad students… 😡

      • 1WriteWay
        July 24, 2015

        Thanks for the heads up about who will be rejecting me 😉 I never really tried very hard with submitting before so I want to give myself the pleasure of collecting a thick folder of rejection slips (admittedly, most of those will probably be emailed if sent at all) 😉

      • Kevin Brennan
        July 24, 2015

        I wish you nothing but luck!

        I do wonder these days if email makes it a little too easy to reject. At least in the old days they had to slip a little piece of paper into your SASE, lick, seal, and put it in a mailbox. Now? “Send.”

Chime in

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on July 21, 2015 by in Writing and tagged , .
%d bloggers like this: