“I’m writing a novel,” I tell them. It might be friends of friends, work colleagues, or relatives. Already, just saying this one phrase has got me sweating.
“Ooh, what’s it about?” they ask. And then it happens: my face begins to cringe. I’m already apologizing for my work, afraid to stand by it.
I say something self-deprecating, like, “Oh, I wish I knew!” Or “I’ve hardly got anything done!” even though I have many pages under my belt. I started noticing this was happening whenever people asked questions about my novel — I was afraid and apologetic, mocking myself and my own silly efforts to write something important. I always ended up with a self-deprecating grimace on my face. And I bet you’ve done this routine too.
There’s just something so frightening about the idea of putting yourself out there and admitting that you are a novelist, or that you have something valuable to say and you’ve been devoting your career to it lately. It seems insufferably egotistical, or maybe just ill-advised, to be a novelist and to shout it from the rooftops.
But why can’t we be proud of this bold risky experiment that we’re embarking on? Why can’t we declare that we’ve gone all-in on this project, and that we actually like it? Why can’t we just say, “I’m proud of myself for doing this”, or “I think I’m a good writer”?
I think it’s time to stop putting up with the cringing, submissive smile and the apology for our writing. It’s time to firmly tell ourselves, “Enough of that — be proud!” It’s time to say something firmly and confidently about what’s good in our novels.
If you find this sort of thing hard, as I do, start simple. There is a middle area between cringing and boasting, so work on finding it. Say one strong statement when asked, such as, “I’ve already written ____ pages,” or “I’m really excited to be nearing the end.” There — that wasn’t so hard, was it? Then, if your audience seems interested, allow yourself to get interested in your novel as well. Share some thoughts you’ve had about what the main idea is.
You’re only hurting yourself.
As my boyfriend pointed out to me lately, it’s not just that apologizing for your novel is a bad habit; it’s also going to hurt your novel’s success. It’s time to think about your novel’s future presence in the world. If even the people closest to the author have only heard that it’s some pathetic work that’s hardly worth blowing your nose on, are they likely to read it eagerly? Your chance to talk about your novel is just that — a chance to pave its way in the world, to find people who might be as excited about it as you are, or to find people who could even help get it published.
So it’s time for us writers to be proud of what we’ve accomplished, not apologetic!