Here’s a quote that’s very near and dear to my heart:
From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs, but all I have done before the age of seventy is not worth bothering with. At seventy five I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist. At a hundred and ten everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokosai, but today I sign my self ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.’
That was from Katsushika Hokusai, a Japanese painter of the Ukiyo-e school (1760-1849). Don’t worry about not knowing him, because you do. He created the famous Great Wave Off Kanagawa, published in his “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” — a print of which you’ve probably
seen a thousand times.
Hokusai says it all: the work is what’s really important, that he will always continue to grow and progress as an artist, and that who he is will always remain less than what he creates.
Writing is like art. We struggle to put our thoughts and intimate fantasies down just-so, then we send them out into an often harsh and uncaring world, hoping that someone out there will pat us on the head, give us a few coins, and tell us we did a good job.
What with this emotionally chaotic environment a little success can push just about anyone into feeling overly superior. Being kicked and punched by the trials and tribulations of the writing life making just about anyone desperate to feel good about themselves — even if it means
losing perspective, looking down on other writers. Arrogance becomes an emotional survival tool, a way of convincing themselves they deserve to be patted on the noggin a few more times than anyone else, paid more coins, and told they are beyond brilliant, extremely special.
It’s very easy to spot someone afflicted with this. Since their superiority constantly needs to be buttressed, they measure and wage the accomplishments and merits of other writers putting to decide if they are better (and so should be humbled) or worse (and so should be the source of worship or admiration). In writers, this can come off as someone who thinks they deserve better … everything than anyone else: pay, attention, consideration, etc. In editors, this appears as rudeness, terseness, or an unwillingness to treat contributors as anything but a resource to be exploited.
Now my house has more than a few windows, and I have more than enough stones, so I say all this with a bowed head: I am not exactly without this sin. But I do think that trying to treat those around you as equals should be the goal of every human on this planet, let alone folks with literary aspirations. Sometimes we might fail, but even trying as best we can — or at least owning the emotion when it gets to be too much — is better than embracing an illusion of superiority.
What this has to do with erotica writing has a lot to do with marketing. As in my last column (“Pedaling Your Ass”) where I vented a bit on the practice of selling yourself rather than your work, arrogance can be a serious roadblock for a writer. It is an illusion — and a pervasive
one — that good work will always win out. This is true to a certain extent, but there are a lot of factors that can step in the way of reading a great story and actually buying it. Part of that is the relationship that exists between writers and publishers or editors. A writer who honestly believes they are God’s gift to mankind might be able to convince a few people, but after a point their stories will be more received with a wince than a smile: no matter how good a writer they are their demands are just not worth it.
For editors and publishers, arrogance shows when more and more authors simply don’t want to deal with them. After a point they might find themselves with a shallower and shallower pool of talent from which to pick their stories — and as more authors get burned by their attitude and the word spreads they might also find themselves being spoken ill of to more influential folks, like publishers.
Not to take away from the spiritual goodness of being kind to others, acting superior is also simply a bad career move. This is a very tiny community, with a lot of people moving around. Playing God might be fun for a few years but all it takes is stepping on a few too many toes — especially toes that belong on the feet of someone who might suddenly be able to help you in a big way some day – making arrogance a foolish role to play.
I am not a Christian (despite my pseudonym) but they have a great way of saying it, one that should be tacked in front of everyone’s forehead: “Do onto others as you would have then do unto you.” It might not be as elegant and passionate as my Hokusai quote, but it’s still a maxim we should all strive to live by — professionally as well as personally.