Writing can be a very lonely profession. I am not for one moment suggesting that writers are friendless or that we live a hermit-like existence on coffee and cheese sandwiches, but much of our working day is of necessity spent inside our own heads. The trouble with spending a great deal of time with ourselves is that we think. We are our nation’s thinkers after all.
What happens if you give a world class thinker nothing but themselves to think about? Self-reflection, insecurity, and boozy Monday mornings, that’s what!
So, how do we avoid the negativity trap? Well, it has a great deal to do with the difference between Egotism and Confidence. Egotism can be defined as the drive to maintain and enhance favourable views of oneself, and generally features an inflated sense of self importance. Confidence on the other hand is the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust.
Egotism is emotional toddlerhood – Confidence is emotional adulthood
Egotism always seeks the I and the me. Confidence is always certain of the I and the me and is looking out for the you. We all walk this emotional tightrope. Some days the toddler wins but it helps if you are aware that it is there throwing the mother of all tantrums and you learn not to listen to the ‘I can’t’, ‘They didn’t’, ‘I don’t want to’.
Confidence comes with knowing what you can do for other people. Perhaps you excel at magazine articles, technical papers or short stories. Perhaps you write copy for a website or advertising. Every small success working for the pleasure of other people will bring you increased confidence.
No amount of success working solely for your own benefit will silence the toddler. You need to learn to grow up and walk away.
Isn’t that the basic premise of fiction? I spend all of my days writing about people who don’t do the things I say and certainly aren’t in the places I mention. Usually they aren’t even real people. In fact I am a great big “Liar liar pants on fire” most of the time.
The funny thing is that amongst all the fibs, of which there are many, the thing I am searching for is the truth. The truth of what it means to be human. The truth and mechanics of relationships. To engage a reader in a story you have to find the spark of recognition, the place where a reader realises yes I know this, I have lived this, this man is like me.
In order to get to that place your writing has to remain true to your character. Are you trying to make a person behave in a way they simply wouldn’t? Does it ring true? You see people really don’t step outside their normal range of behaviour unless they are placed in extreme circumstances and even then it is unusual.
So figure out what your character’s usual reactions would be and then you will know if you step outside them. If you are going there, do it with purpose and conviction. There are times when you can use this fact to advantage but it must be with a character your audience knows very well and I think possibly several books into a series just to shake up the pace. Part of the truth behind people is that we do things for certain reasons; sometimes we don’t know the reason, sometimes we have some insight. We are complicated and understanding and using complicated characters to get to the truth is just about the highest goal of literary fiction.