Supreme Vanity

“The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.”

I read this William Faulkner quote today and it rings true with me. I have sometimes let other people in the real world read my words and I have asked them what they think – I am curious how my work is received after all. I take criticism in both senses of the word – criticism meaning comment and review, criticism meaning the highlighting of errors – but I don’t respond well to suggestions of how it could be improved.

I write what I write, and when it is written it is the best it can be. I have thought, stressed and lain awake for the words I write, I have chosen the most appropriate, the most resonant, the most perfect words I can. The work is mine, I know it better than anyone else, better than them, better than you, and nobody else can tell me how I could have, should have, improved it.

I rarely have confidence in myself as a person but I often have pride in what I have written, and I have confidence in myself as a writer. I know I can do this, it’s probably the one thing I really can do. And for that reason I don’t take advice.

Does this make me arrogant? Does this mean I am setting myself up for failure as a writer? Maybe yes and maybe yes. Will my outlook change when I begin querying? Can I stand, Canute-like, resisting the ever-encroaching tide of rejections flooding through my letterbox? That remains to be seen. But for now, in just one aspect of my life I have, as Faulkner put it, supreme vanity.

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