Ego throws a mean left hook.

Ego is a funny thing.

Sometimes Ego is my driving force that gives me just enough courage to put my work out there. Other times, Ego whispers something that sends me spinning and knocks me out for a few days.

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.”

Knock out.

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.
Or, rewrite.
Whatever it takes.

Because, Ego isn’t going away.

*****

Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1986. Print.

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21 responses to “Ego throws a mean left hook.

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Ego throws a mean left hook. | Writing Under Pressure -- Topsy.com

  2. This was an excellent article, and can be applied to so many of the things we aspire to. Thanks for putting it out there.

  3. “Writing Down the Bones” is one of my all-time dog-eared favorites.

    Yeah, that Ego-thing. It’s hard to get away from it when you’re a writer. Even with blogging — you think you’ve written “the post of a lifetime,” and ZERO comments later…well, you know. Good suggestions. Pulling something out of the old “Ideas” folder always works for me.

    • Amanda,

      My copy of Natalie Goldberg’s book is on loan from a friend. I’m in trouble if she ever asks for it back! And, I think blogging sometimes makes it harder to keep my ego in check – those darn stats…they’re up, they’re down, and so is my confidence 🙂

  4. I especially love suggestions 2 & 3. Pulling out old work is motivating, and there’s also the occasional, “this isn’t too bad” which really sparks action.

    I’m a huge fan of Natalie G and her urging to enjoy the process is motivating every time I read it. “Writing Down The Bones” changed the way I write … it’s one of my top 3.

    Keeping my fingers crossed for your click on that little “submit” button!

    • Cathryn,

      Your comment about number two is another reminder never to throw away a story. You just don’t know how it will look the second (or third) time around…

      — and, thanks on keeping your fingers crossed 🙂

  5. Great post, Christi. Thank you for sharing wisdom with us…

  6. Wonderful words. Yes, we must just keep writing. I love that about Natalie–she’s humble and true to her craft. Thanks for the reminder. Got it. Its. About. The. Writing.

  7. Kim,

    Yes, humble and true. That’s a good way to describe her writing. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Wonderful post Christi and so true. Ego, in my case, usually takes a seat next to me long before I ever even consider submitting anything for publication, for review, for comments, for critique. She can be very mean and when she’s not mean she sometimes butters me up before she throws the knockout punch. But, I remind her, that the writing is often, in one way or another about her, so the parts she thinks are awful may be the parts that are most honest and need most to be written, whether for publication or self-awareness.

    • Julie,

      Ah, the writing is often about her. No wonder she gets feisty. And, yeah, that buttering up before the knock out…especially rude. For me, the more awareness I have about my own ego (and the part she plays in my writing life), the better off I am. I hope you find a way to tune out those critical moments, so that you find courage to send out more of your work!

  9. Hello Christi,

    My father had a saying, “Perfection is the enemy of good enough.”
    My adaptation of this, “The only perfection is the pursuit of perfection.” And I find the battle between ego and doubt very valuable (but I am strange like that)… both push me in ways that I am reluctant to go… like an inch worm… a little further out, then a little further in.

    Have a nice day C:)

    • Craig,

      If you’re strange, then so am I.

      I couldn’t agree more that the push-me pull-me quality of Ego has merit. The key for me is maintaining good balance.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

  10. This post rang so true to my evil-ego-deafened ears. I tend to hear my inner critic a thousand times louder than my inner cheerleader, and it’s nice to know I’m not the only writer who is hard on myself like that. I take criticisms with a smile but inside it is brutal! What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, right?

  11. Thats was an excellent post, and everything you said resonates too well. And if ‘ego’ can trouble writers such as yourself, imagine what havoc it can play with emerging writers like myself.
    I have also added your blog to my blogroll. Hope that’s ok. 🙂

  12. Mary,

    I’m honored to be on your blogroll!

    By the way, I love this truth that you’ve posted on your blog: Set goals, enjoy the journey. That’s perfect advice for writers, no matter where we are in our journey.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  13. Hi, Christi
    ‘Ego Throes a mean left hook’ is wounderful artical. Before I read this article, I thought ego was no good. But know, I understand, Ego was not good personally but this ego also encourage to complete the work which is hard for me.
    I also like Natalis Goldberg’s advice, writing something else. Through success and failure, just write. Even our professor Miss. Jennie also give this advice and because of her encouragement, kow I think and write at least 200-250 word essay.
    Thank you christi for this article. I also want to say thank you Miss. Jennie.

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