The Paradox of The Writer’s Ego
EGO: “Noun. A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance. Synonyms: self-worth, self-respect, self-image, self-confidence.”
Some people think that ego is a bad thing. In a way, they are right. In a way, they are wrong. A wooden plaque (given to me by a friend) hangs in my room so that if I (ironically) hold my nose up, just slightly, I can see it. It says, “Humility is not one of my faults, but if I had one, that would be it.” Before you attack my lack of profundity, my friend made and gave the plaque to me as a bit of an ironic joke (I hope).
I recall my father using descriptive phrases like “too big for your britches” and “Who the hell do you think you are?” One might think such comments damaging to my ego or creativity and may have hampered my development. My ego survived and my limited creativity seems fine.
In my thinking, ego has little direct effect on creativity regardless of its health or condition. We writers (all artists?) are diverse people. But we are people. All kinds of folks paint great landscapes. George W. Bush paints, and he is better at it than I am. Who knew? The former Prez was hiding an artist all that time.
There are many web sites and books to help us write better. Most of the tidbits I learn from them are helpful. However, I often wonder if Stephen King isn’t right — they are all BS (from somewhere in On Writing). My point is that while we’re all different in many ways, we seem open to writing better.
I spent my entire life preparing to do (and doing) something else. After I gave all that up and retired, I woke up one day and declared that I am a writer. It was not who do I think I am? It was what I am – a writer, because I said so. That is ego. But is it evil or bad? Am I egotistical? I said nothing of quality, and I am a QA professional. I am as good at writing today as I can be. Tomorrow I want to be better. I am also as good as I can be at spelling, and my spelling is horrible. My writing gets better each day, my spelling does not, and my ego is managing.
Most of the be-a-better-writer advice I’ve read says we need to dump our ego to write (or do anything) well. Other things say we should believe in our abilities and work hard at it. Unfortunately, changing who we are is more difficult than changing the tire on the family Ford. I think that if I work hard on this blog and do the research, it should be good enough. My ego tells me that I can do this. I can do it. I can get my point of view across. That is self-confidence – ego.
I’m making the claim that ego is mostly good for writers. I presume that it is good for artists who work in other forms of artistic expression. I also think that being humble is good and being courageous is good. I also think that each of us should do what works for us. We’re unique individuals who share a passion (if you want to call it that). I admit that an out of control ego is a problem for more than just the narcissist, and egotistical people have their issues. But over-blown personalities write and sell books too.
Narcissism: “Noun. Excessive or erotic interest in oneself. Synonyms: vanity, self-love, self-admiration, self-absorption, self-obsession, conceit, self-centeredness, self-regard, egotism, egoism. In Psychology, it’s an extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration.”
“Egotistical is excessively conceited or absorbed in oneself; self-centered. Synonyms: self-centered, selfish, egocentric, egomaniacal, self-interested, self-seeking, self-absorbed, narcissistic, vain, conceited, self-important; boastful.”
Then there is the paradox. I like to refer to myself as a “wannabe” and I see no reason to reject that. I think my skill and my work improves each time I make changes or corrections. My writing improves every time someone reads it and tells me what they think of it. My ego can, and often does, take a beating. At some point we stop all of that. We are ready for what is the painful process known as “getting it published.”
We need our ego to launch the work to readers. We need to believe that we can and want to do it. We also need to deal with whatever criticism and rejection we encounter.
Our poor egos. Our old friend stands ready to push emotional pain buttons with every rejection or criticism. It happens. And it happens most often to wannabes. But it’s part of the process, if you want to be published. After enough of this ego pounding us with emotion (can our egos survive all of this?) we may want to stop writing.
To quote from Poe’s Preface to a republishing of his poems: “These trifles are collected and republished chiefly with a view to their redemption from the many improvements (made by publishers)…I am naturally anxious that what I have written should circulate as I wrote it….” He goes on to say that it is not that his work is that important, but the people who read it are. Ego?
The writer’s ego is a good thing. From day one, it is at the core of our being able to do what we want to do. But ego is not good at dealing with the humbling experience of rejection. I am sure the damage done too often leads to quitting. But, if we quit, do we say, I am not a writer?
If you want to read more on this topic, check out the following.
Insecure Writers Support Group (IWSG). This looks like a good site for all writers, insecure or not. Two other interesting blogs on writer’s ego are here and here.