Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way
— from the song, “It’s Hard to be Humble”
You would think writers are the humblest people around.
They’ve become practiced at it from writing mountains and mountains of words, only for many if not all of those words never to see the light of day in the form of being published. Writers get used to rejections and criticism—from publishers, editors, reviewers, awards or contest judges, readers and even other writers.
With all that adversity, the writer’s ego should be in tatters, paralyzing him or her from writing another single word. And yet that’s hardly the case. Writers are some of the most resilient, tenacious people I know (they have to be if they want to continue doing what they love). Writers are also some of the most stubbornly egotistical people too.
Balancing humility with self-confidence and continued faith in your abilities is difficult. Even impossible for some, yet truly essential.
I know a couple of published authors (and many, many unpublished writers) who, at some point in their writing careers, decided they didn’t need to read any more books on the craft, take classes or go to writing conferences. It was a waste of their time (and money) because they already knew what they needed to know, were naturally good at writing, were having some success, and if anything, should be teaching the classes, not taking them.
I’m honestly puzzled by this attitude. Nobody is that good at anything that they no longer need to continue to learn. Do doctors, pharmacists, engineers, pilots, or athletes stop learning? Absolutely not.
To learn, it’s critical that you put aside your ego and to admit that you don’t know it all, that you need help, that you have much to learn no matter how much success you’ve enjoyed. As the Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “It is impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows.”
Continuing to learn your craft, your trade, your profession, is crucial no matter where you’re at in your writing career. Because if you’re human, you can never “know” it all. You can never, ever reach your very best because you can always be better. And you can’t grow and learn if you’re too self-assured, too arrogant or too fearful to admit your weaknesses and to ask questions.
As writers, we must learn to accept feedback, even when it’s not glowing feedback. Especially when it’s not glowing feedback, because that’s how we learn. Ego and fear will be defensive and not accept feedback and will not want to learn. Ego and fear will say, “You’re already great, so it must be everyone else’s fault if you’re not successful.”
We all want to be good at the things we love to do. And let’s face it, who doesn’t want the accolades and affirmation and adulation of being a successful writer? But first, we must learn the fine art of humility. Which means we must forever be willing to be students.
Writers, remind yourself that you’ve not reached the pinnacle and never truly will (because there’s no such thing), but you’re better today than you were yesterday and yesterday you were better than you were the day before that and tomorrow you will be better than you are now. Each day, you’re growing and learning and improving. And at the end of the day, that’s really all we can do.