Dani Shapiro
December 27, 2010

On Pride

Pride can really, seriously get in our way as writers.  Of all the sins, I think pride implies the greatest sense of self-consciousness, and self-consciousness, as we all know, is the enemy of good work.  Why?  Think about it.  Being conscious of the self, conscious of the self while writing, means that there is an intermediary–a prideful, vainglorious, preening, worried-about-what-people-will-think intermediary–between the place where the writing really comes from and the page.

Writing doesn’t come from ego.

Let me re-phrase that.  Good writing never comes from ego.

We’ve all read work that makes great pyrotechnic leaps around the page.  Sentences that flex their muscles.  Paragraphs that announce: look at me!  Look, Ma!  See what I can do?  And while that’s completely appropriate, even delightful, behavior in a four year old swinging from the monkey bars, it has no place in the writing life.  Those sentences and paragraphs–even those that first appear to be shiny and bright–are almost always exposed as gaudy and cheap, like tossed Christmas tinsel at the end of all the revelry.  When we are quietly chuckling to ourselves about our brilliance, our incredible gifts made manifest, what we aren’t doing is the real work.

Thomas Aquinas called this the sin of “inordinate self-love”.

Sometimes, at a cocktail party, someone will turn to me and say: “Oh, you’re a writer!  That must be so much fun!”  And I never know what to say because the truth is that it’s not fun.  It’s deeply pleasurable at times, but it’s so not fun.  Because I’m not sitting at my desk loving what I do, or loving myself (inordinately or in any other way) but rather, trying to transcend myself.  When I’m hard at work, truly inside of the piece at hand, I am forgetting myself.  And in that forgetting, there’s no place for pride.