S.G. Browne

V is for Vanity

vanity >noun (pl. vanities)  1) excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements.  2) the quality of being worthless or futile.

It’s interesting that the two definitions of vanity should seem to have such extreme opposites, but it’s actually a pretty good description of what it’s like to be a writer.  Not that all writers take excessive pride in their achievements, but there’s definitely ego involved for anyone who sits down to write with the goal of publication in mind.  After all, if you think something you’ve written is good enough to be read by a bunch of strangers who would actually pay to read it, then there’s a pretty good chance you’ve got a healthy ego.  Hopefully not on steroids, but an ego, nonetheless.

Let’s not confuse ego with arrogance, either.  While arrogance and conceit have negative connotations, an ego is a good thing to have.  Losing your ego can have significant consequences.

John Lennon once admitted that he’d done so much acid in an attempt to destroy his ego that he didn’t believe he could do anything.  By the time The Beatles were creating Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, he’d given up all control of the band to Paul.  I’d like to think The Beatles would have been even better had Lennon chosen to put more of his mark on their last few albums.  But then, I think Abbey Road is a masterpiece.

Once again, I’m off on a tangent.  Which is why I’m my in-person interviews are always all over the map.

Back to vanity.

Okay, so there’s ego and then there’s pride in one’s achievements.  For the sake of argument here, let’s take the word “excessive” out of the definition and just stick with pride.  Of course writers are proud of their achievements.  You spend six months or two years of your life creating something and when you’re finished, you have a sense of accomplishment.  A sense of pride.  And when that first manuscript actually appears in your mailbox in the form of a published book, with your name on the cover and a blurb from Kirkus on the back, the feeling is even greater.  Almost surrealistic.

But along the way, through the writing and publishing process, the second definition of vanity comes into play, as well.  The feeling that what you’re writing is worthless.  That the hours you’re spending sitting at your computer writing about imaginary places populated by imaginary people is futile.  What the hell did you think you were doing?  Who in their right mind would want to publish this?  Or pay money to read it?

But when that first e-mail arrives from some stranger who read your book and they tell you they loved it and couldn’t put it down and didn’t want it to end, those concerns vanish like John Lennon’s ego.

A friend of mine, who is also a writer, once said that having a book published is like jumping off a cliff.  You have no control over what’s going to happen and you just have to hope that you land in something soft rather than in a dumpster filled with broken bottles.  Or something like that.  I’m paraphrasing, but the point is you’re at the mercy of the world, so you might as well enjoy the fall.

(Next entry: W is for World War Z)

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Filed under: Breathers,The Writing Life — Tags: — S.G. Browne @ 10:09 am

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