Want to be a real writer? Park your Writer’s Ego.

To succeed as a writer, you must put the needs of the story before your own.

Let’s be honest here, every fresh-out-of-the-box writer imagines themselves as the next big thing. Even those of us hardened by experience have occasional fantasies of writing a bestseller that will launch our careers and make us famous. Truth is, not many of us will make it. 

We can write, we can self-publish, or find a publisher. But one in a thousand… No! One in ten thousand fledgling authors will become a household name. 

Selling 500 books is damn difficult, selling 5000 harder, selling 100,000 is near impossible. 

Give or take—160,000 books are published in the UK each year and the vast majority appear without fanfare and sink without a trace. Yet this stark reality does not prevent our Writer’s Ego from grinding away full bore, but that same ego may be the very thing standing between us and at least some realisation of success. 

How’? I hear you ask?

Well, let’s first define what I mean by Writer’s Ego?

Anne Lamott, in her brilliant Bird by Bird, which I recommend to all writers or aspiring writers, describes the constant chatter of the ego every writer must combat to get any work done at all. 

Here she describes with humour the dreaded ego’s envy. (I defy any writer to deny having felt this way.)

‘If you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with [envy] because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you. You are going to feel awful beyond words. you are going to have a number of days in a row where you hate everyone and don’t believe in anything…’IT CAN WREAK JUST THE TINIEST BIT OF HAVOC WITH YOUR SELF-ESTEEM TO FIND THAT YOU ARE HOPING FOR SMALL BAD THINGS TO HAPPEN TO THIS FRIEND—FOR, SAY, HER HEAD TO BLOW UP.’

(Hear more from Lamott in this wonderful TED talk, 12 truths I leaned from life and writing.)

We do not justify ego on ability, but on unearned right. 

If you pick up a pen to write, you need a degree of self-confidence and a belief in an audience, as yet undefined, who will want to listen to what you have to say. 

Every writer wants to be known as a ‘Great Writer’ but this should not be your single motivation, because if it is then you are serving the ego of the writer, not the needs of the writing.

When you write to serve your own ego, you are forgetting two important responsibilities of the author, first the story and then the readers, who by reading, bring the story to life. 

So, acknowledge your confidence, take a bow towards your dream, then write in service of the story because when the writer becomes obsessed with the realisation of ego, their desire becomes a destructive force.

Becoming enamoured or obsessed with your own writing, your schemes, plots and characters is a sign that you are falling foul of a Writer’s Ego. This obsession may be why many writers do not progress or do not want to progress. They may have a small following on social media or other sites where they post their work and receive praise from like-minded writers who are seeking praise in return. 

The danger inherent in these likes-for-likes arrangements is in the writer becoming obsessed with their own ‘brand’ their perceived persona as a writer. They crave the praise of others and worse, believe that such praise is real, ignoring the quid pro quo element of such arrangements.

Those who want to become ‘real’ writers, quickly learn that all praise comes tempered by rejection. That beloved characters and favourite lines will be struck out by editors, and that the work they believe perfect will be rejected by ‘that’ magazine.  And this is when the Author’s Ego raises its ugly head. When you are told your novel is not good enough, or that your brilliant short story is only moderately good, or that your poetry is nice but not life-changing. This is when your Writer’s Ego will want to fight back. Don’t allow it!

There are two ways to handle setbacks as an author. You can pander to your Writers’ Ego and retreat to your safe space, or you can banish your Writers’ Ego entirely and learn to view your own writing, not as you see it, but as others do. 

Adore criticism

Learn to accept criticism. More! Learn to value negative critique above the warm fuzzy moments of adoration. Remember, it is from chastisement that we learn, not from praise. 

This acceptance that your work is not perfect is a massive step toward putting the need of the writing before your own. You will know your Writer’s Ego is in check when you concede that what is important is the writing, not the writer.

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