Declaring your genius
This in Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac yesterday:
It was on this day in 1882 that the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde docked in New York. Customs asked him if he had anything to declare. Oscar Wilde replied, "Nothing but my genius."
Every time I hear that story, I'm reminded that this is all any of us have in this profession. The total contents of my office is worth two or three thousand tops, including all the technology, my Louis Vuitton knock-off tote, and the dog's new chew toys. Rights and royalties provide a dependable trickle of butter and egg money. Sometimes right before I hand off a manuscript, I have bad dreams about my house exploding in flames. Sometimes I have to get up out of bed and compulsively back up everything online, just to make sure. The only real asset I have is my ability to set words in rows, and this work has value, but it took me a long time to take ownership of that.
Why is it so hard to say "I'm a good writer" and so easy to say "I suck"? I was always big on the self-deprecating humor and self-slamming blah blah blah until an editor bluntly said to me, "If you don't believe in this work, stop wasting my time with it. If you do believe in it, stop disingenuously running it down."
Suggested New Years resolution for every writer within hearing: declare a moratorium on negative self-talk. You are the first and most powerful advocate of your own work. Declare your genius and stand by it.