I am the Greatest! Say it With Me.

Chris Jones’ column in the latest ESPN magazine was all about athletes who like to proclaim that they’re the best.

Jones argues that that kind of wishful thinking is necessary. “You have to believe it,” in the words of Ivan Nova, the NY Yankees pitcher. Otherwise, you get bogged down in a world of stats that prove you’re not the best, and then how do you get up there and convince yourself your curve ball is tricky enough to get out the league’s leaders (who just might be the Orioles this year? What!)

I think you can make the same strong argument about writers. You have to believe you’re the best. My favorite, famously self-promoting writer was George Bernard Shaw, whose advice to a young writer was this (paraphrased from my memory): “Go on writing, my boy. One day the producer at the theater will go to his assistant and ask ‘have we anything from Shaw this morning?’ and the assistant will answer, ‘no, sir.’ and the producer will say ‘well, then we’ll have to start on the crap.’ And that’s your chance, my boy.”

Writers are constantly rejected, but think about this: we never face the brutal statistical onslaught that modern sports subjects players too. If these players can ignore their ERAs and slugging percentages and still keep that crazy faith in their own greatness, we can too.

Comments 1

  1. Susan Channing wrote:

    It’s important to separate self-belief from arrogance here. Writing is something with a certain amount of prestige attached to it, and vanity. This brings out the worst in many writers; they strut and bluster and declare their brilliance without the slightest self-awareness or idea of their ridiculousness.

    There’s a phenomenon I’ve identified which I think of as ‘Jimi Hendrix Syndrome’: anyone who ever picked up a guitar thought, at least on some level, that they’re a master of the axe. Likewise, just about everyone who ever put pen to paper believed they had it in them to become the next Shakespeare and automatically had the right to recognition.

    The best writers are the ones who believe in themselves but never indulge in self-praise. To do so demotivates one to write. Even Hemingway restricted himself to slandering James Jones, while maintaining an attitude to his own work that was enthusiastic but modest.

    Posted 13 May 2013 at 5:14 am