Ego is a funny thing.
Several weeks ago, I had my eye on a couple of writing contests. I considered submitting a story I wrote, one that got some good feedback. As I wavered, Ego leaned into my ear and said – all syrupy and sweet – “Oh, it’s good. Just do it.” She was so encouraging. I clicked “submit.”
Days later, I read a different story to a group of writers, my confidence still inflated. I received some good responses, but those weren’t the ones I heard. What I tuned into was one or two critiques that made me question my writing and myself, and then I focused on Ego’s quiet little whisper that followed.
“I’m not sure why you brought in that story anyway,” she said as we exited the studio. “You know they hated it. In fact, I’m fairly certain they don’t even like you.”
Man, she’s mean.
In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg doesn’t call the problem Ego, but she writes about it just the same. She says “Do not be tossed away by your achievements or your fiascos.”
I have to take my successes for what they are: rewards for hard work done on a story. When I feel good about a story, I can relish the moment, even write a post about it, but I can’t play into a false belief that everything I write from that point forward will be perfect.
Then again, as Goldberg says, I can’t let my failures drain me either.
See beyond [doubt] to the vastness of life and the belief in time and practice. Write something else. Let go of your failures and sit down and write something great. Or write something terrible and feel great about it.
The problem with Ego is that, whether the words I hear are praise or a put-down, it’s always all about me. And, when I’m all into me, I’m not into writing. The best way to avoid that pitfall is to take Natalie Goldberg’s advice: Write something else. Through successes and failures, just write.
How do I do that?
1. I Keep it short. If I’m writing a short story or a first chapter (or if I’m knee-deep in a 50,000 word first draft), I don’t want to get stuck on perfecting one scene. I keep it short, get the first draft done, and then share it with writers who know what they’re doing. I can trust that a good roundtable session will help me filter through the parts that need more expansion and bump the sections that don’t belong.
2. I Pull out something old and rework it. I hate looking back, which doesn’t make for easy rewrites. But, after spending some time learning the craft, I might pull out an old story and apply some of those new techniques. That’s the best time to see how far I’ve come in my writing.
3. I Enjoy the process. This is especially important when I’m working through early drafts of a piece. Sometimes a whole page of writing reveals only one gem, but that gem may turn out to be the crux of my story. In a feedback session, I might hear the one suggestion that clears up the whole picture for me and brings that story into focus.
I love Jody Hedlund’s final comment in one of her recent posts, because it speaks to my struggle as well:
Perfection is unattainable. We need to guard against thinking we’re already close to perfect. And we need to guard against thinking we need to be perfect. Instead, we can begin to develop a quiet confidence in our writing abilities—seeing how far we’ve come, but knowing we still have room to grow.
So, whatever Ego mumbles in my ear today, I know what I have to do. Write.
Whatever it takes.
Because, Ego isn’t going away.
Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1986. Print.