Leggo My Ego

I’ve found that the writers I’ve met fall into two categories:

First, there are the brooders who think they’re no good. “I can’t stand what I’ve written! I refuse to look at it again. No one will buy this book, because I’m such a terrible writer!”

Then there are the egotists who think they can do no wrong. “This is a masterpiece! It’s the best book ever written! It’s sure to be a best seller and be made into a movie!”

You know where I’m going with this, right? That the truth is that there are some absolutely terrible and amazingly talented writers in each group?

Still, the problem comes in recognizing yourself if you fall into one of these categories, and then learning to take a step back and trying to view your own work objectively. That’s not easy.

It’s always difficult for any creative person to look at their own work and analyze it fairly. And that’s understandable. Your children are smarter, prettier, and more talented than everyone else’s children, right?

I, unfortunately, tend to fall into the second category too often. I finish a story and go “Wow! This is great! I can’t see any way to improve upon what I have just written!” I get all excited — and then I’m crushed when I receive rejection letters.

What has helped me is a good editor who can knock some sense into me from time to time and bring me back to earth. Usually the changes she suggests make me go “Now why didn’t I see that the first time?” (I’ve discussed how and why an editor is important before, by the way.)

It is important to have a healthy ego and be proud of your work. It’s what keeps you striving and happy, in my mind. I think many authors in that first group never get very far because they are not confident in their own work to promote it properly.

But at the same time, you have to know your limitations. I am perfectly aware that I am not a great writer — but I am very proud that I am a good writer! I can be proud of my characters and my plot twists and the way I keep my story moving while acknowledging that I am still learning the techniques to make it read even better.

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7 Responses

  1. It’s funny, I ping-pong back and forth between abject self-immolating hatred of my writing and undying admiration of it. I’m sure it must be something I ate.

  2. I’ve been fortunate to meet writers who are able to tread that treacherous ground between self-loathing and self-worshipping. I’ve never really struggled with the ego part of writing. I know I’m not great but I know I’m better than much of what I read. I also know I’ll never know everything I could learn and I’ll never be as good as I want to be. I think the best one can hope for is to remember that there will always be someone better than us, and there will always be someone worse. It’s something of a gift not to be a competitive sort if you’re a writer, but self-satisfaction is always a danger. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Like you, Mike, I fall into the second category. Of the two, I think this is the better one, provided you also add a solid dose of reality. I do (by and large) what my editor tells me. I love daydreaming about the big movie deals and even take steps to make them come true, but never think of my chances of “winning” as being better than playing the lottery. When a novel goes to print, I mentally label it as “official” and move on to the next story, keeping in mind what I’d like to do to improve my writing. All the things that will make my continued writing experience more enjoyable for me and for my readers.

    The thing that helps me the most, Mike, is that I want to tell the story, and then I want to tell the next one, and the next one. I reread my novels; mostly for research/reference, but also because I like my writing style. That’s not bragging; that’s just common sense. Why would I write in a style I didn’t like?

    So in my opinion, it’s better for most writers to fall into the second category. Just make sure that when you fall there, you land firmly on your feet.

    Good article.

  4. Excellent blog, Michael.

  5. Well, as Hemingway said ‘the first draft is always shit’ and taht’s how I try to view mine. But, it’s good to be excited about something you’ve written and think it’s ‘wow.’ Find a great writer’s group that you respect. That always helps to keep your ego on track.

    And good editors are invaluable.

  6. Michael, you hit it on the head – I think we need to find a balance of ego and being knocked down a notch to find our level playing field. I think too that I am a good writer but not great – but I can always be better and improve learning from my peers and the masters. And I look forward to the long road of doing so!

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