When I was younger, I wanted to be the next Tolkien.
And while I now know I'll never reach those lauded halls, I won't deny that I would still love to see my name in lights. To be the next great fantasy writer. My writer's ego can often be found running on all cylinders...and that poses a big problem. Many of them. How so?
Today, I'm so thrilled to have my lovely friend and fellow writing blogger, Emma Welsh, join us on the blog to break this subject down in depth. In fact, Emma will share all you need to know about the Writer's Ego in not one, but TWO articles here on Well-Storied.
Make sure to read today's article to learn all about what the writer's ego is, why entertaining it can cause more harm than good, and what signs you can look for to make sure you stay on track for true writing success.
And don't forget to come back Wednesday to learn how you can combat your writer's ego like a champ. Sound good? Without any further ado, I'll let Emma take the wheel!
What is a Writer's Ego?
When I was little, I dreamed of being an author, but it wasn’t the author I dream of being today. I wanted some sort of fame, ideally J.K.Rowling’s level, and I wanted people to call me a “great” writer.
Often I would hold fake interviews with myself, explaining my rise to fame as an author---always citing my current fake interview in this fantasy---to some interviewer who was completely dazzled by me.
While this fantasy quickly faded away with age---and reality---I still held onto a very specific image of myself until a few years ago, with my name next to authors like Sylvia Plath and J.D. Salinger, imagining my work being studied among the likes of them and others, picturing students in college classes studying it furtively and wondering how someone could write something “so good.”
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not bad to want those who read your work to enjoy it. Nor is it bad to hope your work is good enough to one day be associated with the greats you’ve always admired.
But what is bad? Becoming obsessed with the celebrity of your writer’s name.
Couple that with my obsession with my persona as a writer, material things like awards, and a desire of people’s deep admiration for me, and suddenly this little thing called a writer’s ego had taken over my writing life.
It took me a long time to realize the difference. But once I went to school for storytelling (majoring in film and English), I had a pretty heavy reality check right away when my screenplays were changed and adapted without my permission---the horror!---and my short stories turned out to be moderately good, but not life-changing.
And just like that, after seeing how much I still had to improve as writer, this little thing called the writer’s ego vanished and suddenly I was not only seeing writing in a new way---I was actually writing stuff I was really happy with!
This new insight evolved into my philosophy of putting the story before yourself. This is a belief I developed after I learned to think about how I could write what was best for my story, not for myself, and is now one of the founding principles of my blog, E.M. Welsh.
With all of this talk, you’re probably wondering whether your own writer’s ego is getting in the way, especially when the difference between your ego and your confidence as a writer is such a fine line.
Signs Your Writer’s Ego is Getting In Your Way
If you’re still confused about what a writer’s ego might be, it is essentially what happens when you become more focused on yourself as as writer than the stories you tell. At some point in your writing career, you’ll face this ego. In fact, you may face it more than once.
That's why knowing the signs right away is key to ensuring the writer’s ego doesn’t sabotage your storytelling life! Here are some signs that the ego has been blocking your storytelling skills:
Sign #1: You are sticking to what makes you comfortable.
It goes without saying that sticking to what makes you comfortable in any field usually doesn't yield great results. Sure, it may not result in failure, but it most definitely will lead to plateauing.
However, what you might not expect is that writing what comes easily to you instead of challenging yourself from time to time actually opens up room for your writer’s ego to get in the way.
This usually happens because your writer’s ego makes you worry that if you step outside your comfort zone, your work will suffer and therefore your name will be tarnished as a writer. As you can see, at the heart of everything, your writer’s ego is mostly associated with your name, but things like staying in your comfort zone contribute to the ego even further.
If you find yourself trapped by writing topics you feel 100% sure about, then your writer’s ego might be getting in your way, mixing in with that thing called fear and disguising it as confidence. This fear is often more than your ego. It's not always a bad thing, but a human instinct.
But if you want your stories to be read forever---regardless of your name as a writer, because the focus here in getting rid of your writer’s ego is turning your focus from your name to the stories that name tells---then you need to banish that human fear and challenge your writing in new ways, something I’ll talk about in the second section.
That being said, a little confidence is good. But often, when you stick to what’s comfortable for too long, you step into the land of overconfidence, and your work begins to suffer as a result.
If you’d like to get a head start on stepping out of your comfort zone, I’ve created a free worksheet for you HERE that guides you through the process of banishing your writer’s ego.
It might seem like a simple worksheet, but often I find these guided questions really help me understand myself better!
Sign #2: You are focused on material success.
As you know by now, if you’re in writing for the money, you picked the wrong career! But maybe you’re one of the lucky few making a good living off writing. If that’s the case, good for you.
Every writer who can live off their stories is living the dream and shouldn’t feel guilty for it. However, if you are one of these lucky few, be careful not to focus too hard on those dollar signs and become obsessed, something easier to do than it may seem.
Of course, wanting to live off your writing isn’t bad. It’s completely human to want to do what we love and get paid to do it, so please don’t get those two things confused. But focusing on material success here can mean more than money, it can mean other things like awards, prizes, and other measures of success created by other people.
Again, desiring an award isn’t bad, but making it the sole focus of your work means your writer’s ego is stepping in again and distracting you.
This is because as writers, we produce better work when our goals are rooted in self-fulfillment, be it via stories that excite us or characters we’d love to meet, and not in things like awards and money, which are great things to acquire and achievements to celebrate, but shouldn’t be the sole reason you write or a core goal to aspire for.
However, if you’ve noticed yourself focusing on the very limited material world of writing, you need to ask yourself why you write stories in the first place.
More than likely, you’ll ask yourself this questionand find that there’s a better reason you’re writing stories than the material success, but that that reason has become buried under numbers and stats and the next paycheck.
Use my worksheet I mentioned earlier to help you dig deeper and really find out why you write. You can access it HERE.
Sign #3: You care more about your name than your story.
More than likely, this final sign best matches your writer’s ego, and it makes complete sense why.
As creators and storytellers whose lives are centered around our desire to write things we are proud of, the least we ask is that people know our names. However, people knowing your name so they can find your work and read more of it is a bit different than your name being famous.
Like many things with writing and your ego, there’s a fine line between the two. Ideally, you should be in a place where your name is the source of your stories and a way for people to read more from that source they love.
While you can’t control how famous you and your work become, you can control whether you care about how many awards you receive, what authors you become associated with, and how many people read your books.
The key distinction between these two things is that in one version, you care for the story over yourself, but in the other you’re focused on your personal success, not the success of your work.
Can you pass the ultimate writer's ego test?
I won’t lie. It’s hard not to get caught up in things like your name as a writer. I still to this day catch myself imagining myself as the “best” author of our time. (This is such a ridiculous thought that I often want to smack myself, but I’m sure you’ve thought it too.)
I'll think about how people will regard me, how they'll say my name when they introduce me, and then I'll have to step outside of myself and remember that these thoughts aren't only damaging my storytelling abilities because they’re distracting...they’re also damaging to my emotional well-being!
But maybe you’re normal and don’t imagine yourself in the situations I tend to catch myself imagining. If that’s the case, it’s still possible that your writer’s ego is focused on your name when you should be focusing on how well you can tell your stories.
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?
I don’t mean that someone else steals your story and gets credit---I think we can all agree that would be awful on so many levels---but that your name is forgotten or never even known, while your story stands tall.
I know, it’s a hard test to answer to. Even the best of us want our names on our work. But the closer you can get to being selfless about your stories, letting them exist as their own beings, the better your stories will be. All because your writer’s ego won’t be getting in their way.
In fact, if you think about it, many stories are remembered before their authors. Sure, we know F. Scott Fitzgerald and J.K. Rowling, but when we think about their stories, we become lost in them and the world they’ve given us. And that’s what makes them so special.
If someone likes you as a writer, it’s because they like the stories you're turning out and want more like them for themselves. This isn’t greedy on their part. It’s part of the relationship between an author and their readers.
The better you get at banishing your writer’s ego, the better you’ll be able to serve those readers, creating stories that thrill and excite them!
A huge thank you to Emma for joining us to share her knowledge today. I've never thought much about my writer's ego, but now I realize that I definitely need to work to rein mine in. Whoops!
If you have any questions about the writer's ego, don't hesitate to ask away in the comments below. And don't forget to come back Wednesday, when Emma will be sharing another article all about how to combat your writer's ego like a boss!
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.