We're Begging You, Get Off Your High Horse.
Today our topic is all about the superiority complex occasionally found within the writing community. We will also be discussing how to work with other writers, the problem with unwanted editors, and just generally trying to figure out why some folks are so pretentious. I would also like to preface that this article is not about anyone in particular. It’s an article of curiosity, rather than accusation.
Joining me is my good friend and fellow writer, Aña Anne! Thank you so much for coming back to the blog! Since this topic has so many layers, where should we begin?
A: Always happy to be back! Thanks again for having me!
I think one thing we all face in this industry is working with other writers. An inevitable part of being in the online writing community is interaction. We use it for followers, likes, and generally boosting engagement on our pages. Sometimes this can lead to wonderful friendships, for example, Lev and I met over Wattpad and have been close friends ever since. However, what happens when we meet a person we don’t meet eye to eye with? How do we handle this maturely?
L: There’s always going to be someone out there who doesn’t like you or your work. They will share their opinions with you, in several manners. You have to look at these fellow writers or readers in differing lights.
Are they offering constructive feedback and seem earnest in helping? Is their tone the only thing that seems off? This is the Internet, we don’t get to hear their voices, we just interpret things the way we want. If they are actually making some sense, I try to engage with them. Get a conversation going and explain your side, while listening to theirs. This way is great to encourage growth on both ends.
If they are being hateful or vulgar, I just delete the comments and move on. Some writers want to see you fail, in order to make themselves feel successful, and these people simply cannot be dealt with.
A: This is such a great tip! A key part of growing as a writer is learning how to take criticism and dealing with different kinds of people, whether they are blunt or too easy on you. Like Lev said, look at things diplomatically and try to work with people who approach you. If they refuse or continue to be difficult, move on and pat yourself on the back for trying. A lot of people simply need to be communicated with, as they might forget that you are a person just as real and feeling as them. The screen is a heavy barrier. What I think is the most frustrating though, is dealing with people who do refuse to be mature.
The first example that comes to mind for me is dealing with pretentious readers. While the intention is usually kind, people who give out long and condescending tips in an attempt to “help” a writer come off as pompous. It infuriates me when a reader talks down to me like they are some brilliant critic, especially when their own work is subpar. It’s important that I try to take their tips into consideration, but that doesn’t mean they are always helpful.
L: Here’s the thing. Writers want to hear your thoughts. They want to engage in discussions about their books. However, they do not want unsolicited editors. If they have not approached you about writing a critique or edit of their book, do not give it to them. Message them privately, asking if you can discuss their book with them. A reader’s opinion definitely matters, but there are polite and impolite ways to share it. When they are ready, writers will seek the help they need through beta readers, editors, and critique clubs.
A: Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Discussions are so welcome, but making a long comment about every single misplaced comma or continuity error is insane and frankly frustrating, not to mention humiliating if you do it in a public comment section. If you have genuine advice because you want to help a less experienced or younger writer out, approach them privately with kindness and understanding and offer your thoughts. You have a right to your opinion, but choose how and when you share it wisely. I will say it until I die, you don’t always need to be the smartest person in the room.
That’s what this article is about, isn’t it? People who are on a high horse, who feel the need to constantly show off their intelligence. Sure, sometimes we have to work with these people, but we also have to make sure we don’t become one of these people.
L: True. What I’m really interested in is trying to break down and figure out why some people come across so cocky. The way I view it, we are all writers. Some may have more experience than others, but we all love the same craft. Why do you think people develop a sense of superiority, even if they are on the same level as someone else?
A: Honestly, I think the deepest root of superiority complexes, despite personality disorders and the like, is insecurity. We all struggle to be unique in a community of wonderful, diverse, and talented people. Feeling that our work isn’t on par with someone else’s, or doesn’t get as much recognition, can really hurt. This can make us feel hopeless and alienated, like we’ll never succeed, or even that we don't belong in the writing community at all.
If you ever feel this way, know that you aren’t alone, and we all struggle with these emotions. Being an artist, we face a billion up and downs trying to reach our goals, especially when it comes to self esteem. How a lot of people deal with this is trying to “mark their territory”, proving to others (but more often themselves) that they are worthy and talented, and in turn it makes them seem pompous and self absorbed. If you have to tell yourself you are better than everyone around you to feel confident, you’re not confident.
L: Your idea of marking territory is interesting. What do you mean by this?
A: I mean that there is a lot of possessiveness in the community, because not only can fellow writers be your friends and your competition. Not everyone looks at it this way, but plenty of people are desperate to make their mark in the community so that no one can take their spot. Like marking your territory, sometimes a writer acts cut-throat and possessive in order to further their personal goals.
For example, putting down younger or less experienced writers to make yourself feel higher, or telling someone that they can’t be a writer because they don’t do this or that. All of these are things an artist may do to boost their own ego and crush the competition. Some people believe it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and I guess I can’t totally disagree.
L: Just because you’re the queen bee on Instagram does not mean that is going to translate into literary success. They are two very different things. I think it’s a matter of stepping back, realizing that we are here to lift each other up, and then coming back with a more helpful attitude.
A: I agree, it’s equally important to offer a helping hand and be kind to those you share a community with, because you might need their assistance one day, with beta reading, editing, engagement, etc. Besides, it’s never a bad thing to be nice, especially in a community of such loving and supportive people. Also, in the grand scheme of things, followers do not give you talent. Be aware that you have to be focused and dedicated to both mediums, writing and sharing, if you want to be online.
What do you think is a good way to keep a writer grounded, while simultaneously confident? The two can go hand in hand, but it’s hard to find an artist who has completely mastered both.
L: Finding a core group of people helps. You don’t need hundreds of likes, you need a few friends (online or otherwise) that can help lift your writing up, but can also say “hey, buddy, come on back down to Earth”. I think a big problem is some people are attracted to confidence disguised as cockiness and their praise only feeds egos. Learn to recognize a suck-up and veer away from them. Just find a couple of cool people. I’m not cool, but I can be in your corner!
A: Agreed. Lev and I, as well as many other writers out there, are always willing to help out a fellow creator, because we’ve been in your shoes.
The problem with thinking you’re better than others is that you get cut off from this kind of connection, the support and friendship that comes with being empathetic and down to Earth. I’m no saint, of course, but it’s helped me immensely to act like myself around other writers. I don’t get straight to business, I joke around and give advice to those who ask, I try to aid those in need whenever I can. This kind of engagement is what has made my life in the writing community so fun and so easy.
Stay humble. Knowing where you stand, how qualified you are, and how much experience you have can help you in so, so many ways. Acknowledging that you aren’t perfect and have a lot to learn is the first step in growing as a writer, and as a person. Knowing where you messed up, and—more importantly—that you messed up can allow you to fix that problem in later drafts or interactions.
People are more inclined to help you and bond with you if they don’t think you are stuck up, no one wants to be around a person who makes them feel lesser.
L: I think a lot of people who are on their high horses don’t realize they are up there. Perhaps I’m sitting on the highest of horses right now and you’re all laughing at the irony of this article.
Most people don’t think they are stuck-up. They probably don’t realize how they come across. And of course, their tone could vary from follower to follower. What you and I view as unapproachable could very well be someone else’s best friend.
What do you think qualifies someone to give out writing advice?
A: That’s a hard question to answer, because qualified in this context is subjective. Personally, I don’t think any one person has all the answers when it comes to art. What you write is yours, even if it’s riddled with grammatical errors and plot holes, it’s your creation. I’m definitely not qualified, but I can offer tips based on observation, as both a reader and writer. People can take or leave that advice, that is completely up to them.
What I think makes people feel threatened or talked down to is when a person who gives advice makes it seem like they don’t have a choice. That if they don’t follow a certain guideline, they aren’t a good writer, or their work is bad. I think at one point or another, we’ve all made ourselves seem like an expert when we’re not, but that’s why it’s so important to preface things with a humble note or something of the like. It reminds people that you aren’t trying to be hostile or controlling, you’re just trying to help.
L: Exactly, exactly. The advice I give out on this blog’s Instagram account usually stems from someone asking if I have any thoughts on the matter. Actually, I think that is a better word than advice. Thoughts. If you share your musings, it establishes more of a personal connection and it opens up more of a discussion.
Language is also a huge component of what we’re talking about. When you use pretentious words or explain the simplest things, who are you trying to impress? Sometimes people can come across quite condescending. Why do you think this is? Is it the insecurities flaring up again?
A: Gosh, such a great point. Thoughts is a perfect way to describe what your tips should be; simple, helpful, optional. Much like you said, words are important. Because we do most of our communication online, tone can be extremely hard to decipher. Pay attention to your wording, try to make notes that clarify your intentions. Double check that you don’t sound full of yourself, even though that can be hard to do.
I think sounding condescending can stem from insecurities, but also a lack of understanding. I’ve found myself acting condescending and pompous towards people plenty of times, almost always because I was focusing on my own sense of intelligence and I wasn’t allowing them to voice theirs. I underestimated this other person because they behaved a certain way or said a certain thing, which is unfair. In the future, before you jump to explain things in order to show off your galaxy brain, remember that you have to give people the benefit of the doubt.
L: One last question for you. What are some things we can do to support one another in the writing community? I find it puzzling that this blog has 600-something followers on Instagram and my posts get an average of about 60 likes. Why do you think people aren’t supporting and sharing, when all it takes is the click of a button? (Not just for Making It Up, of course, but in general.)
A: I think that most people are fundamentally lazy, and while I respect that, it can make being online extremely hard. When you host a contest and tons of people see, but no one joins, when you put up a question box and no one answers, when you share something very important to you and no one seems to care. It can hurt a lot, not to mention how frustrating it is.
As much of an introvert as I am, I think those of us who don’t interact much in the community have to acknowledge that in our attempts to stay out of the way, we are actually making things harder for someone else. You don’t have to be the God of networking, but try to, once a day, comment on someone’s post. Go out of your way to click on someone’s links. Actually read someone’s work instead of glossing over it, and try to tell them what you like about it! It can really make someone’s day and you can even make new connections!
L: I definitely never used to comment on posts, because I was afraid of annoying the person or saying something useless. Now, I know that just a tiny bit of support can go a long, long way for someone, so I put in more effort.
Well, I don’t think we exactly solved the riddle of “why do some people think they are above others”, but I really enjoyed having this discussion with you. Just from talking through this, I’ve learned a lot about growth, support, and how much we all mean to one another. Is there anything you’d like to add?
A: Like you said, even I’ve learned a lot from this discussion, especially about human nature and our connection as a community. Thanks again for having me on the blog, it’s always a blast.
Lastly, I just hope this helps anyone who may be reading this right now, whether that help is dealing with unsolicited editors, how to stay humble, or just a way to occupy you during social distancing. I sincerely hope everyone is doing alright, try to stay calm and kind during these trying times. Try to lend a hand whenever you can, now more than ever we need to support each other.
L: I couldn’t have said it better myself. We appreciate all of you and hope you found this article enlightening. If not, I hope our rambling was at least a little entertaining. Thanks for reading!
Lev & Aña
Writing Instagram: @annewritesthings
Critic/Review Instagram: @annes_reading_den
Blog Instagram: makingitupwriting
Personal Instagram: levlyonnewrites