Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
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…