The Importance of Being (Slightly) Arrogant as a Writer

Webster’s defines arrogance as “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.” Basically, you think and act like you’re better than you actually are — and possibly even better than other people. With that kind of definition, who in their right mind would admit to being arrogant?

I would — solely because I want to publish a novel one day. And the truth is, if you’re also a writer with a goal of publication: 1) You are, in fact, (slightly) arrogant.* (And that’s OK. I only encourage arrogance in very, very small doses.) And 2) This is a GOOD thing.

(What to write in the BIO section of your query letter.)

     Guest column by Donna Gambale, who  works an office
job by day, writes young adult novels by night, and travels
when possible. She is a contributing editor to the
Guide to Literary Agents Blog and freelances as a
copyeditor and proofreader. She is the author of a
humorous mini kit, MAGNETIC KAMA SUTRA
(Running Press, 2009). You can find Donna on Twitter
and at the First Novels Club blog.


Here’s the logic behind the argument:

Part one: You are, in fact, (slightly) arrogant.

If you’re trucking away at a novel or short story that you dream of getting published, that implies:

(a) You think your work is good enough to merit publication (meaning, it’s comparable to or better than what’s out there, and it will rise above all other competition).

(b) You believe that other people will enjoy and find value in reading what you write.

That right there, is arrogance at its two-part core — an attitude of superiority manifested in presumptuous assumptions.

Here’s where the second part comes in: This is a GOOD thing. This arrogance is critical to your eventual success! HOLD ON TO IT.

Everyone talks about how getting published is approximately 98% butt-in-chair hard work and 2% stars aligning. I’d like to edit those percentages, because if it were that basic, and I was fighting through all those butt-in-chair hours, I’d give up way before reaching my goal.

The Writerly Pie Chart



Yes, the core of the journey to publication is still a ton of hard work, but there are so many stages of that journey in which you will get discouraged or frustrated or depressed. That’s where the arrogance and optimism work hand-in-hand to get your butt out of bed and back in the chair. On the difficult days when you’re convinced that you’re the worst writer in the world and no one will ever publish your book, the one-two punch of arrogance and optimism will give you the confidence and drive you need to keep going.

As for the 1% insanity: You’re spending hours and hours (and hours) of your life staring at a screen, compulsively making up stories about imaginary people — despite pretty terrible odds that those words will ever see the light of day. Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Sound familiar?

(Chapter 1 cliches and overused beginnings — see them all here.)

But that’s where that lovely slice of arrogance comes in.

One day, you WILL get different results.

One day, you WILL get published.

Embrace the arrogance — when the rough writing days inevitably come, ready to knock you down, you’ll be happy you did.


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6 thoughts on “The Importance of Being (Slightly) Arrogant as a Writer

  1. jotokai

    I have it on net-authority- meaning not researched- that Arrogant derives from the Latin Arrogare, meaning to claim for oneself. It is the attitude that allows you to step forward and proclaim, “this is mine!”

    So, I know you don’t have any entitlement to it, but neither does anybody else. If we all waited for the Green Light from Above, most everything would go to waste, or go to the madmen who think they’re on a mission from heaven.

    So, be arrogant, reach for what you want, just don’t quote some absurd “Manifest Destiny.”

  2. PIBarrington

    Donna, I think this concept crosses and includes all lines of “entertainment” and creativity regardless the medium. When I worked in radio, I had to have self confidence bordering easily upon arrogance otherwise I’d never have been able to go on-air and speak to thousands and millions of listeners live. Actors must go through the same thing, even the shyest of them at the least to go and audition as well as musicians who expose themselves emotionally via their music or there would be no concerts of any type, lol! Artists must have enough self-confidence to display their art via shows. All of these formats including writing are also subject to criticism mostly public and be able to handle it, process it and get up and do it again. But I think the basic bottom line of this is training and mastering your craft, whether you write or sing opera. It’s the mastery that gives the confidence and or arrogance for the artist to continue their art.

  3. vrundell

    Probably it’s 1% arrogance, 6% insanity for me. Still, I’ll agree a little arrogance can carry one past those “It’s not a good fit” rejections.

    It’s clearly the 5% optimism that keeps singing “It only takes one ‘yes’ ” in my brain each time I send a query.


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