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The importance of humility

I keep back all of my old manuscripts. From time to time, I take one out and read the wretched prose I put down while struggling to learn the craft. That deflates my head every time so it fits through a doorway.

There is a particularly odious passage in a very early version of one of my fantasy novels where a dignitary visits a palace and pike men stand in a line as an an honor guard. I thought the piece was Pulitzer Prize winning material and would elevate the fantasy genre. I would be hailed a brilliant young talent and the book would go on to be a best seller. For reasons known to no force in the universe, I had a fly land in the cheek of one of the soldiers, This was a minor character who would never appear again. As the fly crawled around, the soldier fought to remain at attention. At this point, I actually wrote the words, "To flinch would be a fate worse than death." As we all know, you should avoid cliches like the plague.

I was taking a course in novel writing at the time. The instructor would read two manuscript sections each session and everyone would critique them as a learning exercise. As my piece was read, I slunk lower and lower into my chair. What had seemed so great crumbled into a pile of amateurish mediocrity.

I left the classroom and stood despondent on a street corner next to a trash can. I looked at the manuscript and said out loud to myself, “This is it. Either you accept you don’t know how to write yet, the words are not my blood on the page, comments are not murdering my child and I need to consider each critique to discover how to improve. Otherwise, I have to throw the manuscript in the trash can and never write again.

I chose not to throw the manuscript into the trash. At that instant, I stepped above my ego and became a writer. I didn’t have a published book and hadn’t even finished one, yet I was a writer because I began to work at a professional level.

Years later, after much work, an improved version of that book was a semifinalist in Publisher Weekly’s Booklife Prize with a score of 9.5 our of 10. It also won a silver medal for Literary Sci-fi & Fantasy and bronze medals for Fantasy Action & Adventure and Dragons & Mythical Beasts. None of that would have happened if I hadn't overcome my ego.


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