There have been a number of blow-ups around indie authors with debatable attitudes just in the last 18 months, since I got online and discovered this massive community of writers I hadn’t even known existed. People talk about how authors should be humble and respectful, that readers would rather read the work of an author they actually like, and they’re right. But where do you draw the line?
I’m wondering about this because I think I’m on the wrong side of that line. I worry far too much about what other people think of me. I want them to like me. I know this is a hangover from growing up in boarding school. If you’re not liked in boarding school, your life is, well, difficult, to say the least.
I wasn’t liked.
(I swear I wasn’t a bad person – seriously, how bad can you be at the age of six?)
So these days I find myself terrified people won’t like me. I think there is some vague shadowy fear that if they don’t, they’ll put spiders in my bed. Whatever the reason, I worry. And it’s ridiculous, because no one can be liked by everyone. There will always be people who just don’t like you. Whether you get on fine with someone and then one day say something that resonates the wrong way with them, or there’s just no chemistry in the first place – that click that sparks a friendship, someone, somewhere, is going to decide one day that, no, you just don’t float their boat.
I have friends who like me, of course. Very close friends who think I’m wonderful. They like me in spite of my occasional obnoxiousness, which is nice, because sometimes I just get arsey for little to no reason at all. I try to keep myself offline at those times, but I don’t always succeed. Whatever. I’m human. Sometimes life gets a bit too much.
But then I see these published authors doing their published author thing, some of them wickedly famous, some of them writing full-time, some of them just friendly with people who are wickedly famous and/or writing full-time and I think, I want to be one of them. I want to be part of that group. I want them to like me.
Why am I wasting my time?
Make no mistake, I am wasting my time. If some industry big shot likes me and I write a great book, they’ll tell the world about it. If they don’t know me at all and I write a great book, they’ll tell the world about it anyway. And so will the littler shots. I’ve always despised the “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” maxim, and yet I find myself turning into something of a snob. Will big shots liking you make you write better? Doubtful.
Because that’s what it comes down to, in the end. Your writing. And that doesn’t depend on who likes you or not. It’s yours. It is, to a certain extent, you. Part of who you are goes down on every page and those parts are you regardless of whether the reader likes you or not.
Now, to be clear, I’m categorically not saying that declaring oneself King of the World and all your works on a par with the Bible (of the World) is the way to go here.
What I am saying is that I ride a knife-edge of self-doubt (and I’m not alone here – Jennifer Williams wrote a brilliant post about this just the other day), but I’m on the wrong side of the edge. I need to stop worrying about what other people will think of me. What’s far more relevant is what they’ll think of what I write, but I’ll never find out if I don’t write it. Their possible future opinions have no meaning in the here and now. There’ll be time enough to worry about that once the story is completed and I start actually showing it to people. As a writer, as a teller of stories, I have a duty to myself, to my art, to tell my story, my way. The story must be told. It will be edited many times, and after the first time or two those edits will be based on other people’s feedback, but that initial story, its bones and muscles and internal organs, can only be laid down by me.
There is a time for self-doubt. It’s after you’ve written the story. Humility, too, as you have to be willing to accept feedback that may not jibe with your thoughts about what you’ve created. It’s part of the job.
But there is never a time for worrying about whether other people will like you or not. They will or they won’t. You can and should be respectful, but you can do that without being overly humble. Too much humility will have you believing you’re not worthy of talking to other people at all, and then they’ll never discover whether they like you or not, will they?
More importantly, it might make you decide you’re simply not capable of writing anything worth reading, and that could be the greatest tragedy of all. You should never let anyone get between you and your art, least of all yourself.