Big Heads & Clay Feet   6 comments

September 2, 2019

Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

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Defining Terms

This isn’t an easy question to answer. It requires a fair amount of self-analysis and that’s always scary. None of us like to look at our own faults because — well, we prefer to think of ourselves as perfect which means we don’t have any faults. It’s a self-reinforcing denial and I have spent decades learning to be more honest with myself than I would like to be.

Before we can really discuss this topic, however, I think we need to define some terms.

Ego is a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance. Self-esteem is confidence in one’s value as a human being. Psychologists say it is a highly positive factor in life correlated with achievement, good relationships, and satisfaction. Possessing little self-regard can lead people to become depressed, to fall short of their potential, or to tolerate abusive situations and relationships.

Conversely, too much self-love results in an off-putting sense of entitlement and an inability to learn from failures. It can also be a sign of clinical narcissism in which individuals may behave in a self-centered, arrogant, and manipulative manner. Perhaps no other self-help topic has spawned so much advice and so many (often conflicting) theories.

Ah, but there is wisdom in knowing the difference between having an out-sized narcissistic ego and a healthy self-protective ego. Legitimate self-worth is knowing the value of what you have accomplished and feeling good about both your product and your contribution to that product. Narcisstic self-esteem expects to be praised even when you have accomplished nothing of value. We all know those obnoxious people who think the world should praise them for existing. I know you know them. You know I know them. They’re ubiquitous.

Revisiting Writer Kryptonite

When we turn to the subject of ego in a writer’s life, we are touching on writer kryptonite. A big ego can hurt a writer who avoids constructive criticism that might make them a better writer, but might hurt their feelings. Conversely, a healthy ego can help a writer by shielding us from ill-intended negative criticism. It’s troll repellent. If you haven’t encountered any trolls in your writing life yet, you need to interact more with the world. Having the strength of character to repel vitriol is a useful attribute, especially in the era in which we live when people feel so free to be abusive toward anyone they disagree with.

Does Ego Help or Hurt Writers?

To a certain extent, writing and a big ego go hand in hand. Writers have big egos. You need a fair degree of self-worth to believe your words are worthy of other people reading them. There’s nothing wrong with wanting people to read your writing because you know it’s good and makes an impact. It feels wonderful to share that and positive feedback is the ultimate validation of what you already know – your words have worth. What could be more ego-boosting than that?

And, yet there are writers who clearly believe they are God’s gift to the reading world. Maybe they were praised a bit too much on their first book. Maybe they OD’d on sticker charts as a preschooler. Who knows? Probably doesn’t matter. We see them fuss over every bit of negative criticism and blustering on talk shows. They’re very proud of their accomplishment and (often, but not always) in need of a good dressing down. And they wonder why their second book doesn’t sell and they fade off into obscurity and (possibly) substance abuse, moaning and groaning that the audience was too stupid to grasp the wonderful truths found in their writing.

Be honest. You know a writer like that. And it can be a fine line between a healthy ego that accepts criticism to become a better writer and an outsized ego that is certain it needs nw guidance or feedback.

So Which Is It? Good or Bad?

Both. You have to know your own worth to publish a book. Someone with low self-esteem would never do that. Conversely, self-esteem needs to be healthy, not brittle and defensive. There’s a ying and yang to ego, a happy medium where we know our worth, but we are aware that we can make mistakes and we need positive feedback.

And, of course, I think I’m one of those balanced people, but if I’m honest — any wisdom I possess comes as a result of seeing the tension between self-worth and narcissism in my own life. I think my words have worth and that people will gain something from reading them. I can take criticism. I can even read venom and take a pause and decide whether there is anything worthwhile in it (and sometimes there is). And there’s a part of me that wishes I were perfect, but knows that the key to a good book is recognizing that I don’t want to sacrifice the good for the perfect.

By the way, I’ve written some books filled with words that are worth reading. Check them out and then go see what my fellow writers think about this question.

Posted September 2, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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6 responses to “Big Heads & Clay Feet

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  1. A really good article on this topic, Lela. I appreciated your defining and explaining how you view ego and self esteem and valued your interpretation of these in your own writing and life.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, I’m up for criticism, after all, you can’t please everyone. What I object to is the ritual humiliation that passes for critique on some parts of the internet.

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    • “Ritual humiliation” – that’s good term for it. People suck! Not all people, but enough that you gotta wonder what’s gone wrong with western society that we now think that’s acceptable so long as the guy were humiliating isn’t physically present to punch the abuser in the nose to put a stop to that behavior.

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  3. One of the first things I learned about critiques is that you should always point out the good as well as the not-so-good. Critiques should be used for teaching, not to run someone down.

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    • I agree, but some people – especially people with outsized or brittle egos – call that a “crap sandwich.” How dare you provide not-so-good criticism! There’s a whole article written about that on the union board at work – how supervisors cozy unwanted negative criticism between positive statements and how we shouldn’t put up with that. I know who did the posting – speaking of someone with an outsized and brittle ego.

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  4. There’s a quick way to discover if people think our words are worth reading – they buy our books! Increased sales will boost any faltering ego, that’s for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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