“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.
Sir Edmund Hillary”
This wonderful comment, well worth pondering, sprang to mind when I was chatting with a number of writers in an informal setting. So often, I’ve found, when writers talk about their work, they do it in an almost dismissive, self-disparaging way. This tendency takes many forms, some straightforward and some subtle. I think this inclination can be dangerous, because if we don’t value our work, who will? Here are a few examples I heard in conversations of ways in which writers tend to belittle themselves:
They talk about how impossible their projects are: At first glance, this seems innocent enough. We all hit rough patches in our work. But one writer I heard talking about her work kept coming back to how challenging the genre she was working in was. It was almost as if she was defeated before she started because she was attempting something that wasn’t just difficult, but beyond her. Why should this be true? If she works hard enough, why shouldn’t she produce a work worthy of many readers?
They don’t shoot high enough: One writer had gone through a rigorous training program but seemed to feel that what was accomplished was enough of a stretch and that there was really no reason to go farther or try to push the work that was completed to the next level.
They feel that if they aren’t working on something specific, they aren’t working: As writers, we all go through fallow periods when we are in between projects. But this doesn’t have to be a time of self-condemnation — it can be a time of discovery, of planting seeds.
As writers, the way we talk about our work makes a difference. While it’s important to share our struggles with each other, let’s also share our joy and sense of achievement. Let’s not defeat ourselves by talking negatively about what we do and how we’re doing it. And let’s remember that just like a mountain climber, it’s not the mountain we conquer — it’s ourselves. Write on!