The relationship between them is ironic. Without sufficient ego to believe you have something to say, you can’t write a word. Yet value self over story, and you might be fine. But your story won’t be.
For one thing, if your ego transcends everything else, you’ll disregard legitimate feedback. And few writers succeed, either materially or artistically, without a courageous, creative response to insightful critique.
Curtailing your ego also reminds you who controls your story. Though the obvious answer is “You, of course,” it’s actually more complicated. The author (you) generates a cast of characters to dramatize the fiction and a narrator to guide readers as they follow those characters. Even in memoir, a persona, rather than an author, delivers the story.
What makes for a successful persona? Focus on the readers. In both fiction and nonfiction, guiding readers is the narrator’s purpose. But if ego drowns out everything else, the author begins upstaging the more audience-oriented narrator.
Here’s Katerina Cosgrove on that subject:
I've found, over the fifteen-plus years of being a published writer, that I suffer intensely every time if I let my ego get in the way. Even if I give it permission to stick its tiny little toe out. It always trips me up. In fact, the only way for me to write at all is to let go of any expectations entirely. Otherwise, the disapproval of others, the hot shame of not being enough, the squirmy feeling of not making the grade—or of being simply ignored by the critics, pundits and gatekeepers—is enough to make me want to give up. — “Removing Your Ego From Your Art”
Ah. Though ego might seem to be one’s best ally, that’s rarely true. In “Art and the Ego,” Emma Welsh reminds that as writers
We’re seeking our true voice, our power, our authenticity as artists. We realize—through blood, sweat and tears—that betting on the ego is not going to get us there.
She feels strongly enough about this to pose an extremely challenging question about priorities:
To find out, check out this ultimate test to measure your ego—one that even I can’t pass yet. (Truthfully it may be impossible.) Ask yourself this: if your story was one day incredibly well-loved and highly regarded, would you care whether or not your name was on the project?
How do you feel about your answer? Maybe you dislike the question, perhaps consider it unfair. Maybe you dislike your answer even more. Fortunately, this isn’t up to any fictitious narrator(s) or characters. You control your own ego. Maybe a little scary, but also mighty satisfying. It’s your call.x
Tip: Value story over self.
**** Laurel's new book, Beyond the First Draft, is now available from Amazon or Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing. ****