Janie B. Cheaney: The folly of ego


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, July 17th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Here’s WORLD Radio commentator Janie B. Cheaney now on the secret lives of writers. And everyone else!

JANIE B. CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: Don’t do it! they say.

Some very successful people claim they never do it.

I don’t do it often, but every now and then I succumb to temptation and type my own name into the Google search box.

It’s not a set-aside-time-for-it thing—more of a spur-of-the-moment thing. The WORLD Magazine references are the most instructive. Here’s a backhand compliment I uncovered during one of my searches: “Half the time she writes the most ridiculous stuff I ever read, but the other half she’s spot on. For example…” he goes on to quote one of my more ridiculous statements.

I had to laugh. I mean, I had to. It was mirth in self-defense.

However, the more I think about it, the funnier it is. Writers are a bit ridiculous.

To speak one’s mind on paper is like stepping out on a tightrope. It’s lining up words one after the other to bear the weight of one’s wobbling, wavering thought. If your words appear in print, people are looking.

Every time I step out on an idea it’s with a certain degree of trepidation—will I make it this time? Will I walk a straight graceful line from one point to the other, or stumble over my own feet? Will I overbalance and fall, into the airy net of triviality or the unforgiving sawdust of outright error?

However impressive it looks, there’s something inherently ridiculous about walking a rope. Writing, too: why climb that ladder, stand on that platform, step off on the thin edge of that mysterious medium called language, and hope to get to the other side with a successful argument? Especially when so many others are doing the same thing, and many of them much better than me? Also especially, when the reader totally misses my point?

Even more especially, when he got my point and it actually was kind of ridiculous.

All I can say is that circumstances, gifts, and experiences have conspired to make it possible for me to do this. So, “whatever your hand finds to do,” as the preacher says in Ecclesiastes, “do it with all your might.”

The best attitude for a writer, or any practitioner of their craft, from mechanic to meal-planner, is a humble self-confidence that says,

I’m not the best at this and not everyone will like me. But certain things only I can say; certain stories only I can tell. So I’m going to go for it, and work to get better at it, and I will not buy into the lie that I’m only successful if the world falls at my feet. Because then it would be all about me.

Every now and then it’s beneficial to let Google remind me of who it’s not about. And that we’re all—not just writers—a bit ridiculous. It comes with the territory of being human.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Janie B. Cheaney.


(Photo/Creative Commons)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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