Enemies of the Art Part 4—Pride

peacock, Author Kristen Lamb, Catie Rhodes, WANA, We Are Not Alone

Image via Catie Rhodes WANA Commons

Pride is most frequently a malaise of the insecure. I suffered terribly with a pride problem for many years. On the outside, I looked like I knew it all, that I had all the right answers, but really? I didn’t know my butt from a hole in the ground, and I was terrified other people would realize this if I asked questions or admitted I didn’t know everything.

Of course, the consequence of being prideful is we aren’t teachable. Those who aren’t teachable won’t grow. Things that fail to grow long enough eventually DIE.

When I began to write fiction, I didn’t want to read craft books because I was afraid other people would think I didn’t know how to write. My first conferences? I was more focused on getting an agent than I was from learning from other more seasoned and experienced people in the industry. I should have been attending classes to teach me better ways to plot or methods to make my characters more dimensional, but I was too busy lining up to learn how to land an agent or a three-book deal.

Looking back? Yeah, I kinda want a DeLorean so I can go back in time and kick my own @$$ for being a prideful idiot.

There is No Shame in NOT Knowing

Just because we have command of our native language does not automatically mean we possess the skills necessary to write a novel. Think of it this way. Unless we are mute, we all have a voice, but just because we can “sing” doesn’t mean we can SING.

No one would fault a singer for taking voice lessons. No one would fault an actor for taking acting lessons. Yet, when it comes to writing, there is this societal assumption that, because we are literate, we have everything we need to become rock star novelists.

A Hint: The masters of our craft are always learning. NYTBSAs still read craft books, attend lectures, and read authors they feel are stronger in some area where they want to learn.

Want to know who doesn’t?

Insecure amateurs.

Mentors are Vital

Part of the reason I started the warriorwriters blog, was to honor my first real mentor Bob Mayer. His classes (and books) were the first time my head was crow-barred out of my derriere. And, when I finally saw LIGHT, I was grateful and a tad…mortified.

Life is short and we only have so much time to learn what we need to be successful. Mentors help shorten this learning curve tremendously. Mentors can guide us, give advice, point us to the right resources and books.

I’ve made mentors out of many people I’ve never met and perhaps never will meet—Seth Godin, Penelope Trunk, the Bloggess, and Steve Tobak to name a few. I read their blogs, their books, listen to their lectures and see what I can apply to come up higher, to do better. TED is an excellent resource.

I couldn’t do any of this when I thought I knew everything.

Two Paths to Humility

There are two paths to humility. One is The Easy Method. We submit willingly and admit we need help. Easy. Yeah.


But that would have been too “easy” for me. I needed The Meat Tenderizer Method, which is where life and failure beat the hell out of you long enough that you, the soft, bloodied mess, finally tap out and realize you maybe don’t know as much as you think you do.

One of the reasons I gave up having an on-line writing workshop is that I spent too much time arguing with people who couldn’t take correction. I simply didn’t have the energy to write 2,000 word dissertations 3 times a day about why all books need a core antagonist, why flashbacks every other paragraph were bad, and why having the cast of Ben Hur in the first 10 pages of a novel was a flawed plan. I was exhausted working with students who knew everything (and probably got a dose of how it had been working with me all those years).

Remember, minds are like parachutes. They work best when open.

Humility will take us farther faster. When we’re humble, we’re open to mentors, to learning new things, to trying other ways. I see a lot of writers who rush out to publish before they are ready instead of listening to the 42 people who told them the book wasn’t yet marketable and needed work.

When they then get the one-star reviews, they want to report the reviewers instead of realizing, they published before the book was ready, before THEY were ready. This author all too often fails to see the real problem and markets more and spams tweets more and pays big bucks for SEO gurus to improve their web site because it couldn’t possibly be they don’t know how to write novels.

Again. Easy Way or Meat Tenderizer Way? We all have a choice. But take it from the person with meat tenderizer scars on her forehead. Easy Way is easier. Shocking, but true. The writing community is VERY generous. James Scott Bell, Candy Havens, Les Edgerton, Shirley Jump are all heroes of mine and they are so kind, thoughtful and liberal with praise and guidance. Please seek them out (they are all instructors at WANA International). Remember that true artists are always learning and looking for ways to grow stronger.

What are your thoughts? Do you have meat tenderizer scars, too? Or were you smart and quickly took the easy way? Who are some mentors who’ve helped you? How did you grow? What was your experience?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of January I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.


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  1. Once upon a time, I had the privilege of learning from some of the best journalism professors in the country. As a teen in an esteemed university program, I blanched the first time my work was returned to me hacked to pieces, the page dripping purple ink blood. I’d never grown so much in such a short time. How I’d love to find a mentor wielding a sharp purple pen again.

  2. So many excellent things pointed out. Mentors are invaluable, once a writer opens his mind and welcomes them. I think the most humbling thing I’ve discovered on my writing journey is that there is always so much more to learn–and sometimes I wonder if I’ve even scratched the surface. Another good post. Thanks 🙂

  3. I don’t know what you are talking about. I am untrained, but my raw talent is in the midst of writing a MASTERPIECE, unassisted.

    All kidding aside, I love this article. You have some great advice for a newbie like me. I will definitely seek out workshops and, hopefully soon, a mentor.

  4. I think finding the *right* variety of mentor and resources is probably just as important as having those things to begin with. I read Stephen King’s “On Writing,” but it didn’t jive with me–he had some great advice, but it wasn’t providing any kind of true illumination. Then, I stumbled across Chuck Wendig’s blog (terribleminds.com), where he posts lists of 25 writing tips on [writing subject] regularly. That advice? It was a freakin’ Bat Signal in the dark.

    A lot of craft books don’t reach me, so I avoid them in favor of more conversational advice from writers’ blogs. I haven’t attended a workshop yet, but I’d like to in the future.

    Finding what works for you, in regards to mentoring and advice, is key to being able to go “the easy way.”

    • Renee on January 31, 2013 at 9:34 am
    • Reply

    Your blogs are a national treasure. Wow, this really hit home. I consider myself the epitome of humble, yet I had so much to learn about storytelling. I had the craft down, I could write clever lines, but I wasn’t concentrating on story. I posted earlier about entering all those RWA contests and not getting anywhere. I’d become furious as to the judge’s petty remarks, jealous that my friends seemed to place and win easily, whereas I struggled and couldn’t get anywhere. I took an online course with James Scott Bell (whose writing How To books are gems) – and he said that I could have too strong a narrative voice for the more conventional folks. “If you’re polarizing so much, and scoring higher with seasoned judges, that tells me you’re trying something different that might rankle the less experienced judges.” But you know, the less experienced judges had something to teach me,. too – a lesson I wasn’t paying attention to. I needed to become a better storyteller, and my arrogance – my outrage that “they couldn’t get me” was my own brick wall.

    Writer narcissism is the kiss of death to a career. In art school, I saw them – the students who breezed in and were “all that.” People oohed and ahhed over their work and they acted like smug royalty. I remember one art student who seemed insecure and was quiet. He wasn’t deemed all that “worthy” by the artist stars. Well, he worked quietly and diligently and when he graduated four years later, he had a jaw-dropping portfolio. His work had matured and grown interesting – stunning stuff. It taught me a valuable lesson, one I was able to remind myself of – and when I entered all those RWA contests – I forgot that lesson. Clever and edgy does not necessarily translate into emotionally powerful novels. When I stopped entering contests, listened to my own gut hunches, stopped trying to “compete” or win the approval of people – stopped feeling “dissed” when I couldn’t place in contests – and let go – my work started to improve. When I got back in touch with the best quality a writer can have – humility – because it drives you to improve – that’s when your work starts to sing.

    I’m always struck by how rampant narcissism seems to be in publishing. Maybe I’m nuts, but it seems so many people are thin-skinned. Some are even mean! Snarky or edgy or clever can make you fall in love with a sentence, but not the story. Rodney Dangerfield’s lines were gut-busting and memorable because there was an underlying pain to them. Maybe I’m nuts, but a comedian who does a lot of snark and putdowns is someone I can’t relate to. They’re not humble, they’re looking for admiration.

    Great books, films, television shows, the ones that matter and stick with you, almost always have a deeper emotional message.

    Yes, mentors are wonderful and if you stop holding onto your pride, quiet your ego down, you can see and hear the lessons… the gifts that are being bestowed upon you to make you better. Humility is essential to improving, and to being a decent human being.

    LOVE your posts. So glad I subscribe now. Your posts make me think, and I’m grateful for your insights.

    1. I really liked your post Renee. I’ve also entered RWA contests and have found the judging both helpful and infuriating! (I entered a historical YA and one comment suggested teens might not relate to a subject that took place in the past.) I got to judge my own chapter’s contests and realized, everyone is coming to judging with a different eye. What I love, someone else might not, even if we are working with the same scoresheet.

      But you’re right, there is something to glean from those who don’t “get it” because maybe writing with a broader appeal–or at least working in concepts of commercial fiction writing–can strengthen the storytelling aspect. I don’t think this means selling out. There are just certain aspects to characters, and plots and structure that provide a better system for telling a story. Thanks for sharing!

  5. As a former academic, no one taught us to write– and academic prose is all passive voice, turgid and BORING. Been working for over 12 years to unlearn and get over all that. Still working, too. John Foxjohn has been a powerful teacher and friend, and a self-published Cajun, Janet Lococo, my favorite beta reader. Add, too, the members of Lethal Ladies from the RWA Kiss of Death chapter. I’m grateful to all of them. Working to return the favors.

    • Jennifer Smith on January 31, 2013 at 9:39 am
    • Reply

    Thanks so much for the links to TED and WANA. Looks like some good stuff.

    I’ve had manuscripts critiqued several times and been frustrated when what I thought was good stuff came back marked up. Then I pushed my pride aside and made the suggested changes, and the finished product was far better than the original. It really is amazing how a person’s ego can get in the way of her success.

  6. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the enormity of what I don’t know. So it’s either learn, or spend that time watching television. I think my choice is clear.

  7. I love this. I always go to craft workshops now over other options. You can never know too much. I accepted I needed help a long time ago, but the other side of the easy way to learning is not to lose yourself. There are so many conflicting lessons. I think it works best to take them all in and then use what works for you. Learning them first is important though. Thanks, Kristen.

  8. I love that you have Pride on your list of enemies of the art with Fear. They seems so opposite but I think in many of us they’re duking it out with each other on a daily basis. Like we’re egomaniacs with inferiority complexes.

    You raise a great point in your analogy about singers taking voice lessons, actors taking acting lessons. I’m a stagehand on Broadway and pretty much ALL of the performers I work with are always enrolled in a class to hone their skills, or learn something new. It’s how they improve, stay marketable, and keep getting jobs. If the star whose name is above the title in a Broadway musical is still taking singing lessons, I can probably benefit from a class on character development or a book on writing dialogue.

  9. Thank you for all the great posts. I teach music to kids and adults. Kids are used to not knowing things, if there are any issues it usually concerns staying focused at 4:30 in the afternoon. For adults, the main issue is intense shame in being a beginner. I talk about that a lot with them. Adult students beat themselves up for not knowing something they’d have no way of knowing. I tell them the outside world doesn’t reward “not knowing”, but it’s a different world in the lesson room. I ask them to take it easy on themselves. The fact that they’re there is a victory. And, go practice….

  10. Meat tenderizer. When I first started out, I knew I knew how to write – I mean, my dad is a writer. Psh. Easy Peasy.

    Uh, not so much. Yeah, I’ve got scars. Give me craft workshops any day. The other stuff will be there when I’m ready.

  11. Kristen,

    Thanks. Just thanks. This post arrived at the perfect time for me.

    The writing I enjoy reading taps into powerful emotions. I am struggling to portray that in my own writing. Good to be reminded that if writing well was easy, none of us would need craft lessons. It’s worth the hard, hard work to become better at my craft.

    After all, nothing in the world I’d rather be doing.

    Cathryn Cade

  12. Good Post, Kristen. Pride is, after all, one of the seven deadly sins.

  13. “Humility will take us farther faster. When we’re humble, we’re open to mentors, to learning new things, to trying other ways. I see a lot of writers who rush out to publish before they are ready instead of listening to the 42 people who told them the book wasn’t yet marketable and needed work.” – true words

  14. I have both your books. Currently reading We Are Not Alone. My writing path started a few years ago, but I feel very Robert Frost-ish…. meaning there are miles to go before the keyboard rests. As an aside, meat tenderizer works on jelly fish stings.

  15. “Remember, minds are like parachutes. They work best when open.”

    That is such a great reminder. I’m open-minded enough to accept constructive criticism, but sometimes it’s hard to know who’s opinion to take when there isn’t a real consensus.

    • SweetSong on January 31, 2013 at 11:07 am
    • Reply

    But craft books are FUN to read! Although I do need to start looking into lectures, workshops, and more hands-on methods of advancing my craft. And I have to say, reading your blogs has helped me immensely as a writer. Thank you.

  16. Some of the best advice as I received as a new writer attending my first conference was to go to the crafting workshops, and skip or go light on anything geared toward social media, platforms and snagging agents. You can learn social media anywhere (like this awesome blog), and if you are a new writer, you need to focus on what works in writing before even thinking about agents.

    I also saw someone mention on a blog that they read one crafting book for every 3 fiction books. I’d read some of the biggies, but a quick Amazon search showed me so many niche writing books–how to craft villains, grammar books, resource books like The Emotion Thesaurus. I didn’t realize how many resources were out there.

    • Lin Barrett on January 31, 2013 at 11:34 am
    • Reply

    I love subscribing to your blog, Kristen. About every third post is something I needed to hear. Like … sigh … this one.

  17. What!? JSB is a WANA Intl instructor now? Woot! Where do I sign up for his courses? 😀

    1. He was one of the first I recruited. He was just waiting for us to get the technology bugs worked out. Need to pester him to start teaching now.

      1. Awesome! I’ve met him at a couple of different conferences now, and he even gave me an interview. Really great guy and always willing to help.

    • annerallen on January 31, 2013 at 12:35 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks for this one, Kristen. It took me soooo long to find out how ignorant I was. I wasted the time of so many agents! Know-it-alls are the most ignorant, because they spread around their ignorance instead of listening.

    • Debi on January 31, 2013 at 12:52 pm
    • Reply

    OMG, Kristen, I have fallen in love with your blog. Though you took “the hard way,” you’ve overcome the pride and own humility as well as fantazmagoric diction, syntax, voice, imagery….I love reading your stuff. I “feel” it. lol I’ve known my work isn’t ready yet, but I’m learning so much now that I’m overwhelmed with all that I DON’T know! I hear that is a good step. Listen. Learn. Listen. Learn. Read. Learn……. :)))

  18. I agree wholeheartedly! Whatever your passion, the day you stop learning is the day you start withering.

    However, I’ve also encountered writers (myself included!) who read/watch tutorials/attend classes/etc…. and yet they don’t actually write. It’s the writer’s version of the perpetual student – always seeking another degree or certification, and never gaining any practical experience. At some point, we must put ink to page and apply our knowledge to our craft, or we also wither.

  19. your post reminds me of something i heard when i was in college: the freshman come in thinking they know everything. the seniors leave knowing they know nothing. thanks again for affirming our need to keep learning.

  20. It’s all such a balancing act. I LOVE learning, especially from people I identify with. My problem is I take what I learn and–people pleaser that I am–add every stitch of information to my “must do” list. Then I end up meat tenderizing my myself.

  21. I love these posts! At the risk of sounding proud, pride is one thing that I’ve never had much of an issue with, but it’s nice to get a reminder every now and then. I sat on my first manuscript for a year before submitting it anywhere, and wouldn’t you know it? The only place I’d ever submited to, Astraea Press, accepted it but only after I made a few minor plot changes. However, it totally enhanced the story and while I still feel as if I can do better, I was very happy working with their suggestions.

    I also learned quite a lot during the entire editing process. Even after having taught high school English, there was still too much I didn’t know about the way a story is put together from the writer’s perspective. (Well, that’s not saying much as my students still struggled with nouns and verbs, and I spent a lot of time squashing horrible texting habits 😉 )But as I continue on, I feel my writing strengthening from the experience I gained while editing my first book with AP. I’m even more excited about my next book, but I know that I can still get better by listening to suggestions. One of these days, when my hubby stops looking at this as a hobby, I’d really like to take a workshop.

    Thanks for a great post!

    1. Pride is an interesting malady. It can afflict us early because we’re really insecure. But success, while great, can be dangerous. The higher you climb, the harder the fall, so the wise artist keeps an eye on humility and gratitude. I regularly read writers stronger than I am or posts from people I admire because it keeps me in perspective. Thanks for the comment!

  22. Of the blessings I’ve had in writing so far, my mentors have been the most wonderful thing.

  23. Oh, Kristen. I have been thoroughly tenderized over the years. I used to tell people that I had never met anyone smarter than myself (and more recently than I would like to admit). After all the strange looks, the “Are you serious?” questions and a charge by my exwife that this attitude was one reason for the divorce, I learned the truth. We all have gifts and there are different kinds of intelligence. I may be exceptional in some ways, but so is everyone else. Thanks for the article, as I am continually humbled by the great writing here and elsewhere, and I am hopefully becoming a better writer due to the advice given..

  24. I personally like to keep an open mind and learn all I can. It definitely helps to be humble enough to know you don’t know it all.

  25. Perhaps, if you have a mind to, you could make a short list of good craft book recommendations?

  26. My mentor suggested early on that I might want to consider giving up writing sales copy for websites and instead focus on blogging, which she saw I had a knack for. When I finally did that, life got less stressful and work/writing became much more fulfilling.

  27. “Looking back? Yeah, I kinda want a DeLorean so I can go back in time and kick my own @$$ for being a prideful idiot.”

    You and everyone else, Kristen. I woukldn’t sit for a year with all the kicks I owe myself. But I think I’d rather have a TARDIS.

  28. Mentor. I knew I still needed something. I have a good family of peer writers who are usually better informed than I am, and they are a wonderful resource and support group, but it would be nice to have someone who’s been there, done that, and was successful.

  29. Sometimes pride causing failure is caused by fear. When I first started, I wanted to write for children. Since I failed in earning a college degree, I wanted to write for children to encourage them to read. Simple stories of encouragement like: “To be smart, you have to learn it first.”

    I was afraid to write novels. So I decided to train my mind by learning to write short stories and articles given a theme or a headline.

    I just finished a 50K novel for JANO Writers 2013 50K challenge in the 31 days of January. Several years ago, I could not cross the novella line of more than 25K.

    A friend, Cait London, from writing organizations tried to tell me early on that I had to focus on a genre and to write the novels if I wanted to be a successful novelist.

    Self-pride in wanting to accomplish things is not arrogant until you cross the line of bragging to offend people. I hope you are not offended, but I am so relieved that I finished the 50K in 31 days.

    I will really brag if I find a publisher for it. Then, I would not care if I offended anyone as long as I can spend the “big bucks”.

  30. Prima guidance. I know it’s true, now. If only I’d listened earlier. Thanks for all you do. Like other readers, would be glad to know your recommended reading list.

  31. “Humility will take us farther faster. When we’re humble, we’re open to mentors, to learning new things, to trying other ways. I see a lot of writers who rush out to publish before they are ready instead of listening to the 42 people who told them the book wasn’t yet marketable and needed work.”,

    This is what I keep seeing. I have heard that I should just get my first book over with, but I think it’s worth working on. I plan to send it out to be critiqued by many and professionally edited maybe twice!
    Here’s my mantra: I don’t want to waste anyone’s time…. I can only hope that I don’t!

  32. Just today as I was listening to a book on Audible I again found myself impressed with the skill of the novelist. I do not consider myself a writer and have no ambitions to pen a novel. I do however want to continue to improve my writing skills. When I read a wordsmith such as yourself I stand in awe of the gift(no pride now). Thank you for sharing your gift with the world.
    No need to throw my name into any hat. I just want to be able to read the words.

  33. Excellent thoughts, Kristen. I remember the first time my work was critiqued by San Antonio Writers Guild. I thought my chapter was perfect. It was a shock to discover that it could have been better. Now I find critique groups invaluable, especially San Antonio Romance Authors because they have lots of expertise. Thanks for your blog posts.

  34. Ugh, well, spent 15 years in the Meat Tenderizer, because, I knew how to write a sentence: How hard could it be to do fiction? After losing without mention in a dozen writing contests and looking back at the drek I’d sent, (and they are all filed in a drawer now under the tab “Dense Skull”), I finally woke up enough to know I needed something more.
    Then I found my first mentor, Kristen Lamb – may have heard of her *smile*
    I won’t say I’m out of the Meat Grinder now, learning and growth are unending processes, but at least I know that there are people out there worthy of being mentors. And I know I’m listening, finally. James Rollins, Jami Gold, James Scott Bell, Seth Godin, Steven Pressfield, and Joanna Penn, all come immediately to mind – although there are many more as I look over at my craft and writing shelves.
    Excellent post, Kristen – keep being the great mentor you are. Some of us listen better than others.

  35. If I had that DeLorean (did they come in purple??) I’d be spending way too much time going back to slap my earlier self silly. And I continue to be proud but now I’m proud I’m spending time on improving my craft, and extremely proud I can introduce new writers to the invaluable resources out there..several of them thank me on a regular basis for introducing them to Kristen’s blog!
    It’s taken a lot of meat tenderizer moments to admit some scenes are superfluous, and even more to listen to remarks from people whose writing doesn’t thrill me. Not all readers are writing geniuses.

  36. Pride! My own most obvious symptom is that I talk too much and listen too little.

  37. Love reading and learning from you and your books. Thank you for sharing.

  38. I definitely identify with this pride thing! Not only is it detrimental to our passions, but also to every area in life we let it invade. I have experienced some meat tenderizing moments the past couple of weeks, and although they probably won’t be my last, I am making strides in asking for help and admitting I don’t know all the answers. Thanks for your insight!!

  1. […] One of my favorite bloggers is Kristin Lamb, who writes a lot about the craft of writing.  Today, she wrote a piece about pride affecting the writer to the point where they are no longer teachable.  Proud young writers often […]

  2. […] which outlines the things that often get in the way of a writer’s success. The latest one, on Pride, touches on a point that’s often ignored but SO […]

  3. […] Life is short and we only have so much time to learn what we need to be successful. Mentors help shorten this learning curve tremendously. Mentors can guide us, give advice, point us to the right r…  […]

  4. […] about reading other people’s blogs is that you LEARN stuff. Handy, huh? I am a follower of Kristen Lamb’s Blog and I often think that the stuff she write about is A) funny and B) useful. If you like writing […]

  5. […] Best Selling Author Kristen Lamb has been posting an outstanding series about the things that can destroy us in our careers. Enemies of the Art, Part 5 — Pride […]

  6. […] « Enemies of the Art Part 4—Pride […]

  7. […] Enemies Of The Art Part 5 – Pride – you know, I should probably just reserve a spot in these weekly round-ups for Kristen Lamb, who always has something interesting to say. This week is no different. the best quote? […]

  8. […] Enemies of the Art, Part 3 – F.E.A.R // Enemies of the Art, Part 4 – Pride […]

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