Escape from the island of the author’s ego

How do writers keep their perspective?

Because I believe that all writers – all creative people of any kind, really — have egos that are about eight years old and prone to jealousy and heartache. Some just keep theirs better tucked away than others.

And in my experience, ego does not correlate in any way to talent. The least capable fanfic writer I know seldom fails to suggest that whoever he is reviewing got the best thing in his or her story from something he wrote in one of his. Meanwhile, J.K. Rowling obviously felt the need to prove she could get a contract and good reviews, if not her usual stellar sales, under a pseudonym. And slurs, real or perceived, have inspired quite a number of famous  literary feuds.

You would think self-publishing has a certain built-in antidote to the author’s ego – after all, I’m putting this stuff out myself. It’s not exactly worth strutting about. I don’t tend to read self-published stuff myself. Why would I expect other people to?

(Because it’s mine, of course. Mine, mine, mine! And I’m brilliant!)

So this little exercise in self-publishing, still in the shakedown cruise, has been a real test of my ability to remain neutral in regard to my own work.

It has also taught me why I must.

Because for every nice comment I’ve gotten from someone, or nice review, or note passed along by a supportive friend, there are also the constant sobering notes which I could interpret as cruel, heartless slaps in the face. When in fact they are simply, you know, reality.

Like when I realize I’m totally boring some people with this stuff.

Or when I do the math and realize that of the many friends who have expressed some interest or even intent to buy, a fair number could not actually have spent the four bucks to do so. In other cases I’ve been surprised by some who haven’t left a review anywhere it would help me. (Let me interrupt here to express my eternal gratitude to those who have.)

On this last matter of missing reviews my eight-year-old ego (okay, five years old) is seriously prone to brooding. Is it because 1) they never began it 2) they never finished it, 3) they didn’t really like it all that much, 4) they think it has issues I won’t want to hear about 5) they think it’s awful, 6) I haven’t asked for it often or specifically enough, 7) they remember liking it but not enough specifics about it to write a review,  8) they have never left a review before and don’t know how, 9) they think it’s ethically dodgy to do, or 10) they just didn’t get around to it?

See what I mean about brooding? (Meanwhile, that last reason I should be able to relate to, because God knows I’m guilty of it myself. I have little good karma built up in this matter.)

There’s only one way to survive this: breathe deeply and let it go.

So I rub my tender ego on the back, say “There, there” in the most soothing way I can (maybe offer it some chocolate), and then turn to the next project for at least as long as it takes to get excited about it. Distraction is our friend.

How about you? If you’re a writer or put yourself out there creatively in other ways, what do you do to keep your perspective?


4 thoughts on “Escape from the island of the author’s ego

  1. Keeping busy is definitely the way to go. Obsessing over what other people think of me and my work has always led to a downward spiral. I know that with this advice I’m at risk of sounding a bit too annoyingly friendly with Bill, but to maintain my mental health I’ve discovered that the best course of action for me is to just put it out there, let go, and let God…

  2. In the fanfic world, I have written stuff that was hated by 90% of readers when it first went out, and in fact I had a beta beg me to change stuff and I just . . . couldn’t. You have to be true to yourself. On the other hand, some people followed me to the last chapter and then gave feedback that indicated they totally “got it.” I often would brood wishing I was more like this writer or that writer . . . but better or for worse, I’m not; I’m me. Obviously many fans like your work. The 10s of thousands of hits are the proof.

    Another thing that prevents me from reviewing: It’s all been said before if you get there after the 10th comment or so . . . .

  3. Well, fanfic is one thing, real fic is another. We start over each time we go to a new audience, really. I’ve been pretty bad at reviewing real fic myself, but now I’ve learned first hand how much it means to the author. And I really don’t mind having constructive feedback (even if I don’t agree with it). Having said that, I think both groups would rather not hear at all when you just really didn’t like something. I only give bad reviews when I think people really need to be warned away from it (like from that last horrible BBC version of Persuasion)!