The writer and self-esteem

Since My Double Life is coming out in three months, I’ve written a lot of emails to my editor, Tim, AKA the bow-tied one, about marketing stuff. (I want to hold some sort of celebrity look-alike contest, but more about that later.)

The bow-tied one didn’t answer my emails for like, two months straight.

I admit right off that I’m a worrier. When I was first married, I had to have many talks with my husband about unexpectedly coming home late from work. My imagination kicked in at twenty minutes. By thirty minutes, I was planning his tearful funeral and trying to figure out how I would rebuild my shattered life. You just can’t do that to a woman for very many days in the week.

Thank goodness for cell phones. Now I can call him when he’s late. He doesn’t pick up, but at least this way I can stop worrying about any demise that would also involve the vaporization of his cell phone.

I was okay at first when I didn’t hear from Tim. I just figured he didn’t want to talk marketing. But about the time that second month rolled around I started creating scenarios. Putnam was dropping me. He’d been fired. He was mad at me. He had cancer. The whole company was dissolving.

He finally called. I told him about my dropping me-fired-mad-cancer-company dissolving thoughts. “You shouldn’t worry me like that,” I told him. “Writers have vivid imaginations.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Vivid imaginations and low self-esteems. It’s a deadly combination.”

“Low self-esteem?” I repeated a bit aghast. “Nobody has ever told me I have low self-esteem.”

“Well, they’re not going to say it to your face,” he said.

Apparently they wouldn’t, but he would. This is just one more editorial service the bow-tied one offers.

I’ve thought about that conversation a lot lately. I don’t think I have low self-esteem. Sure, I know I’m far from perfect. I could do a blog of all my faults. Heck, I could do a blog of all the things I’ve lost lately, and it would be a hefty list. (My Garmin, my car keys, my temper, the time.)

But that’s one of the nice things about being a writer. I don’t beat myself up over, say, being terminally disorganized. I just tell myself: I’m an artist. We’re supposed to be different.

In general, I’m pretty happy with myself and life. I’ll tell you my secret. I try not to concentrate on my achievements (which I think would depress anybody). Instead I aim for a clean conscience. It’s amazing how awful I feel when I know I’ve done something wrong. I can’t feel good about myself until I’ve at least tried to set it right. But when my conscience is clean, I like myself.

So I really wondered about Tim’s comment about self-esteem. Did I have a poor self-esteem and I just didn’t know it? Did everybody out there think a lot more of themselves than I did, and I’d just never noticed? Why was he so sure I had low self-esteem?

Then I left my old agent and went out into the harsh, cold cyber world to find a new one. Suddenly the writers and low self-esteem comment made sense. We’re a bunch of people who pour our hearts into creating a story that we love. We not only do our utmost to create a nearly living breathing thing (at least it lives and breathes for us) but we quite literally put a slice of our mind and soul out there for people to judge.

And so many people find our best lacking. So many people find our souls not even worthy of their time.

What normal person could go through that repeatedly and not feel the pangs of a stabbed ego? Ditto for those revision comments that editors throw around like confetti at a Mardi Gras parade.

A normal person wouldn’t subject themselves to this sort of treatment. Which leads me to believe that writers don’t have low self-esteems. We’re the ones with high self-esteems or we would have fled this business at the first rejection letter. Or the twelfth. Or the fiftieth. And certainly by that 1,000 revision comment. (My Double Life had 1,200)

Thankfully, I wasn’t agentless for long. But to all of you in the trenches: hang in there, and hang on to those self-esteems. You’re going to need them later.