Hilary Mantel reckoned that:
The most helpful quality a writer can cultivate is self-confidence—arrogance, if you can manage it. You write to impose yourself on the world, and you have to believe in your own ability when the world shows no sign of agreeing with you.
Wise words indeed, after all, why the hell should anyone want to read your book? You’re an unpublished nobody—how dare you think you’ve written anything good enough to be enjoyed by readers? When submitting queries to cloth-eared literary agents, the whole world of publishing is one big question mark, forcing the author to become an exclamation mark of cockiness! Damn, I’ve just infringed someone’s copyright (see below).
I recently stumbled across a word new to me, which sums up the characteristics needed to be an author who doesn’t give a damn for the opinions of others—menefreghismo.
As a word, I doubt it’ll enter common usage in English…which raises another point—are authors being arrogant by using long words in their stories, or are they demonstrating their love of language, which they hope will be shared by their readers?
As an example of supreme arrogance, in 2018 an author applied to trademark the word ‘cocky’, to protect her romance novels, which include it in the title. To my jaundiced eye, this is more of a clever ploy to gain free publicity, rather than genuine concern about readers buying other authors’ books.
The thing is if you don’t believe in your story, why should anybody else?
I don’t think that’s arrogance. It’s more self-confidence. Quite where delusion fits in depends on the ambition of the author for their story.
Being a writer is lonely and bruising to the soul. Writing guru Steven Pressfield summed it up well: The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell. whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt and humiliation. (From The War of Art)
To counter such misery, he gave this advice (which mentions that word again!)
I’ve no way of knowing the fate of my Cornish Detective novels, but if they have any success, attracting readers who like them, then it would inevitably bring me a certain amount of attention. I’m too stoical to become arrogant from being in the public eye, which is largely a hoopla of marketing, trying to flog books.
If people love my books, then great, I’ll be glad to have given them a few hours of entertainment—and maybe make them think about things in a different way.
This poem describes the sort of fame I’d like:
The river is famous to the fish. The loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so. The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds watching him from the birdhouse. The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek. The idea you carry close to your bosom is famous to your bosom. The boot is famous to the earth, more famous than the dress shoe, which is famous only to floors. The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured. I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back. I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.
How cocky, self-confident or arrogant do you feel about your writing?
Are there any arrogant authors that you can’t stand the sight or sound of?
(I find Martin Amis, Jonathan Franzen and Salman Rushdie hard to tolerate)
Have friends and family members ever treated you as being big-headed, for being a writer?