— written in Berlin

Saint Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. Elegant. Sumptuous. With only one problem — The many famous writers who were born there. How can I even think about writing that novel after Dostoevsky, Gogol, or Nabokov? To my surprise, the answer to that question came to me from a fridge magnet depicting a ridiculous portrait of Vladimir Putin sitting on a throne — I am the greatest of them all, said his face.

Well… whatever. Let’s go back to writing.

If you ask Google what the most important qualities of a good writer are, you will get a long list of words, like:

imagination, discipline, attention to detail, perseverance, flexibility,
focus, eloquence, professionalism, self-confidence, observation,
awareness, self-motivation

All true. No doubt about it.

In fact, let’s say that you possess all those things.

So, you place those fantastic words on your desk and dive into writing. You can go all night long — The blank page is your drug. You write pages after pages, with the confidence of the masters of the past.

First chapter — done.

Second chapter — done.

Third chapter… You reach a point in the story where you have to make a choice. Will that character live or die? Will those two characters hate or love each other? Will the plot be grotesque or surrealist?

You have to make a decision and take action, but your writing slows down. Doubts come in.

Fuck it, you say, and keep writing!

Back at your desk, though, something has changed. Writing is not that much fun anymore — In fact, it is almost painful. 

The Hard truth about writing…

hits you and you realize that:

  • To write a good novel will probably take you years of work, pain, and energy.
  • In the meantime, 6.000 books are published every day worldwide.
  • Your novel may never be published.
  • Even if your novel gets published, it is very likely that only a few people will buy it or read it.
  • Even if your novel becomes a best seller, it is unlikely that you will reach fame and fortune, let alone immortality.
  • Writing novels does not flatter your ego. Unlike other artists, like musicians or actors, who are constantly in contact with their audience, you will rarely see your fans reading your book.
  • Before you were even born, somebody wrote masterpieces like The IdiotLolita, Dead Souls, … the list continues here

You look at those words on your desk, but they won’t help you now, will they?

You can’t possibly think that you can compete with Dostoevsky, Gogol, or Nabokov, unless

You are a goddamned Arrogant Asshole

That is right.

The keyword is arrogant here or, as Google defines it, a person having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.

Now, dear asshole: You need that arrogance!

You need it to believe that you are better than those many writers whose manuscripts are rejected every day; that, once your novel is published — and this will happen sooner rather than later —, somebody will actually buy it AND many will read it; that, of course — what was I thinking? — you are at least as good as, or even better than, Dostoevsky, Gogol, or Nabokov… and everybody else.

Without arrogance, those innocent words rusting on your desk will take you nowhere. Because, if you consider the hard truths about writing, the list of reasons to stop on the spot is tragically long.

Let’s face it — Writing a novel is a waste of time; it makes no sense to even start. Unless… you are that goddamned arrogant asshole.

In that case, next time that the hard truth about writing hits you, you will shrug, put your best punch-me-now face on, and say: — Who cares, I am the best writer ever. I am the greatest of them all.

The “ridiculous Putin’s portrait” photo was taken during my trip to Saint Petersburg.
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Phaedrus’ Journey

by Arturo Robertazzi

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