It is an undeniable (and frankly rather unattractive) aspect of a writer’s character that it needs to be finely balanced between arrogance and insecurity. Confidence is needed to write in the first place; a degree of self-doubt is necessary for what is written not to be preeningly complacent and indulgent.
From Anthony Trollope to Caitlin Moran, the distinguished panel for this part The Writer’s Rules seem pretty unanimous as to the best approach, which is most pithily summarised in Rule Number 9.
Feel free (if you have the confidence) to add the tenth rule yourself.
1. ELIZABETH SMART
‘Writers have to construct an importance, a sacred vocation, not to feel fiddling…. If you feel foolish doing it, think of those who have done it and earned your everlasting gratitude.’
2. JONATHAN FRANZEN
‘However sick with foreboding you feel inside, it’s best to radiate confidence and to hope that it’s infectious.’
3. ANTHONY TROLLOPE
‘As for conceit, what man will do any good who is not conceited? Nobody holds a good opinion of a man who has a low opinion of himself.’
4. NEIL GAIMAN
‘The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing).’
5. ALICE MUNRO
‘When I was younger… there was a very good chance I wouldn’t write anything – I was just too frightened.’
6. MARTIN AMIS
‘All any writer has is a share of the truth – even Tolstoy. But to be any good you have to think you’re the best of your generation…. Without that ridiculous competitive pride I don’t think you’ve got a chance, really.’
7. TIM BOWLER
‘Self-doubt definitely has virtues. It makes me fight for my story. So, welcome, friend, stay as long as you want. You make me stronger.’
8. NORMAN MAILER
‘I never sit down to begin a book without thinking I’ve lost it, it’s not there any more. And then the feeling comes back.’
9. CAITLIN MORAN
‘Fake it ’til you make it.’
A database of bossy advice from successful writers, on topics from Block to Marriage, is slowly taking shape here.