Both “ego” and “egotism” can have a negative connotation, but only the latter always does. That’s because “ego” has to do with self, whereas “egotism” conveys an inflated sense of that.
If you believe you’re the only one in the world who could write this novel about Beethoven, basketball, or Baltimore, you’re an egotist. But if you believe you can—and should—complete and try to publish is novel about whatever, then you have enough ego to get the job done.
After all, according, to William Knowlton Zinsser, “Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it.” Unless you believe you have something to say, why endure the labor and critique when the vast majority of us must keep our day jobs, anyway. Julian Baggini is right: “There is an inherent vanity in writing; believing you have something special to offer the world is built-in to the very act of putting your work out into the world.”
Still, egoism and egotism remain distinct:
~ An egotist despises constructive criticism. How could anyone know more than she does?
~ An egoist welcomes constructive criticism. How else can you please yourself with the best
novel you’re capable of producing?
~ An egotist believes he is among the best writers there ever were—if not the very best.
~ An egoist, more often than not, believes that it’s impossible to meet his own expectations.
~ An egotist relishes praise; it’s always well-deserved.
~ An egoist might fear praise; maybe the result was good this time. What if it never is again?
~ An egotist is, at least publically, eternally free of self-doubt.
~ An egoist, alone or out in the world, is rarely free of self-doubt.
~ An egotist doesn’t believe in hard work. Why bother when you already excel?
~ An egoist generally loves hard work, because both the work and the product contribute to
Here’s the question: which do you love more, your novel or yourself? According to Thomas Mallon, “George Orwell in his essay ‘Why I Write’ (1946)…indicates a clear awareness that self-loathing and self-love are locked in a tight, procreative embrace.” But is that “self-love” egotistical or egoistical? And is the source of creativity egotism or egoism?
In The Moonflower Vine, Jetta Carleton writes, “Yet none of these things gave him confidence. All they gave him was egotism, which is less the conviction of one's worth than the desire for that conviction.”
Writing is hard work, and as everyone already knows, you won’t always be rewarded, or not as much you deserve, or perhaps not at all. That means you’ll need lots of faith, hope, and stamina to write, revise, and publish a novel. Many writers are fragile souls, prone to “self-loathing” without even a smattering of egotism. Excessive doubt can be as self-defeating as its antithesis.
Tip: Resist the temptation to think either too much—or too little!—of your book and your talent.