Sunday, February 27, 2011

Writer Traits: Self-centeredness

I wrote last Friday about one of the necessary traits of a writer, which is nonconformity. It’s important, but I suspect it’s not the most important trait a writer must have, in order to succeed. The list below was taken from creativity coach, Eric Maisel’s book, Creativity for Life.

Introspective stance

Maisel asked readers to think about one of the traits, to define it for ourselves, and to determine its relative strength or weakness in our personality. He suggested also that we look at two traits together, and ask if we might need a different balance of them, whether a slight difference, or a radical one.

I suspect that having enough intelligence, honesty, empathy and being able to introspect are qualities that most writers have, in at least adequate quantities. I don’t worry about these in myself. I’m also not terribly worried about my relative conformity or nonconformity.

But I can see where not having enough discipline, self-direction, assertiveness and yes,
self-centeredness, could derail a writer’s progress toward his or her goals. Lack of sufficient resiliency would contribute to the same. It’s obvious, when you think about it.

And as much as we don’t want to even think of ourselves as self-centered, much less to actually be that way, if we don't make a point, every day, to prioritize our writing goals (without being totally selfish), we won’t get anywhere in our writing.

I should know. I’m the age that I am, and still unpublished. Like most women, I've always put everything ahead of my writing. In the name of Selflessness. I believed it was far more important for me to give of myself to my family. I thought that if I helped them to succeed, my "lesser" needs, i.e. my writing dream, didn't matter so much. But guess what? The kids grew up, and still had their own problems. My husband and I had, and continue to have, ordinary marital struggles.

If we say we're sacrificing ourselves for our families--or even if we wouldn't dare give voice to it--who likes a martyr, anyway? Did our families ask us to sacrifice ourselves for them? Do they really expect it of us? Absolutely not.

Also, we need to ask ourselves, is this the real reason we’re putting their needs before our own? Is it really the admirable trait of Unselfishness?

Or is it a handy excuse, when the real quality lacking in us is a healthy belief in our own self worth? I.e. a little more self-centeredness?

If we truly believe in ourselves, we would assert our needs. We would be disciplined enough to prioritize our writing time and to stick to it. We would be self-directed and self-centered enough—not too much, but enough—to overcome any and all blocks toward achieving our dreams.

I’ve been working on it. I’ve come a long way from where I was throughout most of my life so far. I’m still available for my family whenever needed, but I’m no longer going out of my way to try to solve their problems when problems arise. Thank goodness for that. I don't want to be labeled a martyr, and I certainly don't want to be deemed meddlesome.

Maisel said, “The writer not equipped with necessary arrogance will be repeatedly sidetracked or subverted by others’ agendas. He will lack a sufficient sense of purpose, will frequently stall and block, and will bring a nagging passivity to his writing career. His desire to make art will remain only a potent idea in his body. He is likely to accomplish much less than he otherwise might, support others rather than find support for himself, attempt the small rather than the large, and rebound less well from rejection.”

I like this quote too: “If asserting yourself makes you feel anxious, frightened or guilty, you will hesitate to argue with the editor whos failed to deliver on her promise to champion your new book. You will be unable to aggressively forge new art. You will not be able to take risks. The more fearful and conforming, the more you’ll see danger as you approach art-making.”

Maisel’s words are worth serious thought. They're a call to action, and not just once in a while. Not daily. Hourly, if need be. Be on the lookout for things that will stop you. Even in the name of selflessness.

How much is being published worth to you? Is it worth being selfish once in a while, and feeling a little uneasy about it?


  1. Some of this really hits home....
    “The writer not equipped with necessary arrogance will be repeatedly sidetracked or subverted by others’ agendas." Ahem....happens constantly.

  2. Good points in here :-)

    gotta get that balance right. Enough to stand up for your ideas but not too much that you can't see others.

    HAppy crusading

  3. I found this a very interesting post. I feel guilty whenever I prioritise writing over other things because it's such a solitary activity and I have at times been accused of being anti-social. Maybe so. But maybe sometimes, that's not as terrible as it sounds.

  4. This was such a meaningful post for me. As a mother and wife, I DO feel like I have a responsibility to put the other family members before me, and I end up doing a lot of work that could be just isn't, because I've laid this expectation that I'll get it done. It's frustrating at times, even more so because it's self-inflicted. I have to remind myself that asking for three hours of "me time" to write on the weekends is NOT selfish. It's okay to put me first on occasion :)

  5. Life is always going to be full of tugs and pulls, and finding balance is always a challenge. But being a writer requires a certain mindset, and I fear I didn't learn this early enough on. We have to believe we really are writers and then we will make time to write--even if it's only a few minutes a day. We have to believe and then pursue that belief.

    Hmmm, so I guess I would say my weakest trait through the years has been discipline...

    Wish I had been more serious about my writing in the early years. Trying to make up for it now :-)

    Great post!

  6. Taking ourselves seriously as writers is the hardest and most important step. Until we do, no one else will take us seriously in this profession either. But sometmes it can be hard balancing this with young children or an older parent who needs our attention. It's always a balancing act.

  7. I'm a mom. That says it all right there. My life is constantly filled with giving. Fortunatly, my kids a re a bit older now and so I've "taken" back some me time. They know writing makes me happy. My husband is supportive. But it is a hard balance.

    Here's to self-centeredness! A must.

  8. This is something I'm actively working on right now... learning how to say no to others, so I can focus on what's important to me. I tend to take on too much and neglect my own aspirations, and that focus needs to shift... I don't want to look back 30 years from now with regrets and nothing to show for myself. It's good to help others and do things for others, but taking care of yourself is just as important AND necessary!

  9. It's absolutely a must, to say no to favors for friends and family, to say no to going out or participating in games, watching movies, all that stuff. But is has to be done, especially if part of your day is taken up by MUST DOs, like working or being a parents. I get eyerolls and heavy sighs when I say I can't do something or go somewhere because I'm writing, but I just ignore it. I expect them to be upset, but I don't expect them to understand just what this means to me.


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