Three Simple Ways to Combat Your Writer's Ego (with guest writer Emma Welsh)
Learning to let go of silly dreams can be tough, but it's all too necessary if you want to succeed.
Whether you realize it or not, your writer's ego may be standing between you and the writing life you crave. On Monday, writer Emma Welsh stopped by the blog to share all about what a writer's ego is, why it's dangerous, and how you can spot the signs that your own ego may be taking over.
Today, I'm thrilled to have Emma back to discuss how we can combat our egos and keep our writing goals within sight. Make sure to check out Monday's article first, then come back here to dive into Emma's best ego-crushing tips!
How to Get Rid of Your Writer’s Ego
Once you’ve determined that your writer’s ego is getting in your way as a creator and storyteller, it's time to begin banishing it as best you can so you can work on telling great stories without fretting about your name.
Luckily, since I’ve spent the past year or so making it a priority of mine to banish the writer’s ego, I have a few different ways to get you started that work pretty quickly:
Tip #1: Create a pen name.
Pen names are a weird yet delightful way to get rid of the writer’s ego, and perhaps one of the quickest ways to disassociate ourselves with our stories.
I made a point to have a different name to go by as a storyteller and blogger than I do in real life, so that one day — should my work become famous in the writing world — it would be E.M. Welsh getting all the fame, not Emma.
Coming up with a pen name isn’t always that easy, but luckily Kristen, being the gal that she is, already has an article walking you through the process! Shortly after coming up with a pen name — and keep in mind you don’t have to completely change your name — it’ll be easier to treat your work as a storyteller as something outside of you.
If you’ve already established yourself under your real name as an author, don’t worry, you can still separate yourself from your author identity in some of the ways listed below. Plus, you can also distance yourself by referring to your author self in third person.
I know it feels a little ridiculous at first, but creating a separate identity from your author self is a great way to not only separate your writing life and your other life — however you might fill that time — but also to help rid yourself of your writer’s ego.
Tip #2: Find your genius.
The creative genius is something Elizabeth Gilbert talks about in Big Magic and in her TED talk on a similar subject, two things I think any creative person needs to read and watch.
The genius Gilbert refers to is not the genius we refer to today, as in someone who is incredibly smart, but instead the Roman version of a genius, the divine spirit within every person that guides their life and therefore controls their creativity.
Often, instead of attributing talent as a writer or artist to themselves, creative in ancient Rome would attribute it to their genius, to God, or to a muse, never taking credit for themselves. In fact, it was very strange for someone to give the credit to themselves until the Renaissance, when the idea of a genius or god guiding one’s work vanished, and all the credit started being attributed to the artist.
Whether you’re religious or not, the notion of inspiration and creativity coming and going is not a new one. There are days as writers we stare at a blank page for hours and days where the words are coming faster than we can type.
Because of this cycle of good days and bad, having a genius in your life makes sense whether you believe it’s the flow of inspiration or some divine force. Think about it this way: the genius works against the ego and represents the flow of inspiration. This then places all of our credit as creative people on this mystical muse or genius, but it also places all the blame there as well.
So, let’s say you’re have an awesome writing day. Instead of patting yourself on the back and getting prideful about your work, you have no choice but to thank your genius for providing you with the inspiration, keeping you from getting an inflated ego.
However, if you have an awful day as a writer, you have complete permission to blame this genius as well for not showing up. This takes off a lot of the pressure you — or your ego — might be putting on yourself to do something perfect.
As a result, you can rest easy knowing you showed up to do the work, but your genius didn’t. So in that way, finding a genius is both a great way to banish your writer’s ego and combat the self-doubt so many writers face!
Tip #3: Branch out into the unknown.
One of the principal beliefs over at E.M. Welsh is that all writers should constantly be working to challenge themselves and step out of their comfort zones. This is not only because doing so makes you think in new ways that can inspire your storytelling, but also because stepping out of your comfort zone does this magical thing: it makes you a newbie again.
When you’re a newbie again, you’re vulnerable. And because you’re vulnerable, there isn’t a lot of room for your ego to get in the way because you’re in a territory where you’re no longer confident. As a result, the more you do this, the more comfortable you’ll become with focusing on what is right for your story instead of what is right for you.
There are a few different ways to branch out. One of the most obvious ways is with writing prompts that force you to do different things, such as writing in a genre you usually don’t work with or from a perspective unlike your own.
As you do these prompts, you’ll likely encounter this fear that you’re doing something wrong, but you’ll have no choice but to push forward and deal with what you don’t know. In fact, there’s a high chance you’ll do something “wrong” or cliche in these prompts. But that’s half the process in banishing your writer’s ego, in proving to yourself that you still have places to learn.
The second way to branch out, the less common one at the moment but one I’m sure will take off in due time, is to write in new storytelling mediums all together. This means that if you’re a comfortable novelist, trying out a screenplay or a video game quest to mix things up.
While at first the notion of trying out a new medium may seem like a total waste of time, in reality it works very well at both enhancing your storytelling abilities while simultaneously banishing your ego.
How is that? Well, when you decide to write stories in new mediums, you begin thinking about what works best for your story first in a more natural way than how writing prompts can inspire. This is because when you switch to different mediums, you have to think about how to tell a story in a new way, and therefore the best way for that particular story.
Say you’re adapting a story of your own to a new medium. When you do this, you’re automatically going to start thinking about what’s best for the story, not for yourself. In fact, to think the other way would be quite weird and unnatural, so for that reason switching up the mediums you write in makes it easier to prioritize your story over yourself.
However, if you’re still having trouble working out how to banish your writer’s ego, I’ve created a simple three-page worksheet to walk you through the process that you can get here.
I know sometimes I work better with guided questions, so I’ve laid them out for you to help you really think things through.
No matter what solution you find that works for you and your ego, I advise you to go easy on yourself. Banishing your ego for good is incredibly difficult, so any small steps you can take to minimize its hold on you are ones to cherish and celebrate!
Even if you never get to the point where you’d be okay if your name as a writer wasn’t remembered 200 years from now — we are human, after all — any effort on your part is an effort to applaud.
Author: Emma "E.M." Welsh
E.M. Welsh is a born and raised Texan who doesn’t say “y’all” but does love tacos. She loves writing stories in all forms and has written short stories, novels, plays, screenplays and even a video game quest.
She believes every writer should challenge themselves by writing in different storytelling mediums. You can learn more about her storytelling system and unique approach to narrative over at emwelsh.com.