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Thursday, May 08, 2008
The Ego Trap
Posted by Colleen Thompson
Call it karmic debt-load, superstition, or what have you, but most writers of my acquaintance feel an obligation to give back to newbies what those before have given them. Sometimes this comes in the form of close one-on-one mentorship, but it's way too easy to get burned that way, so many times, authors "pay back the universe" by giving free or crazily-close-to-free advice in the form of workshops/classes taught, articles written, or blogs posted.
I do as much of this as I can, within reason. But I strive to keep my focus on my commercial work because there's a real danger, in my opinion, in setting yourself up as an all-knowing Writing Guru. Such teachers often develop a following of writing disciples who hang on their every word. This sort of thing isn't good for the disciples, and it's often a career killer for the WG if she doesn't watch her step.
Why? I think this happens because the WG gets used to the role of all-knowing portal to the mysterious universe of writing. Having all the answers gets time-consuming as people come to you for help and guidance more and more frequently. And once you've started to buy into the idea that yeah, I do know a heck of a lot more than newbies about publishing, it's tougher on the ego to admit that this biz is more art than science, with a fair amount of luck mixed in. As the ego is massaged by one's students, it gets pretty embarrassing to encounter rejections or a nasty review or any of the pitfalls faced by mortal writers. To protect the more pleasant WG image and the ego, a lot of these folks become risk-adverse and simply stop submitting.
I think the lesson in this is that yes, it's good to help out up-and-coming writers, but not at the expense of trading away your own passion for producing the best art that you can. And not at the risk of forgetting that the publishing biz is at its heart unfathomable, that a huge part of the reason it attracts so many is that it continually tests each one of us, from the rankest of beginners to the oldest of warhorses.