I hear a lot about how it’s important to have an ego in writing. You have to believe you have something worth saying. You need that self-belief to battle the tide of rejection.
It’s advice that always made me uncomfortable. I saw a lot of people around me with too much ego and not enough craft. You know the type – the freshman in your creative writing class who answers every critique with, “You don’t understand my vision.” Even when it’s a spelling error? Surely that wasn’t useful to them?
So yeah, I have a knee-jerk hate for the ‘you must have an ego’ advice. I could feel how useless my ego was and see how useless ego was to others. Anyway, my ego is a self-sabotaging little weasel.
I have a habit of self-deprecation. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a huge ego. Too humble is half proud.
One can, in fact, brag about how humble one is. It’s the silliest thing to brag about. Just the other day I watched a guy get up at a retirement party to relate a story about the honoree and his story was about how she’d asked him to come in to work on a day he didn’t want to but he did anyway and… wait, that was just you talking about how good you are, jerk!
Virtue self-lauded is poor virtue indeed.
Yet, running around all the time saying “I suck!” isn’t virtuous, either. You are really saying, “Please contradict me! Validate me because I lack the strength to self-validate.” It’s not just needy – it’s egotistical, putting the focus on yourself and your struggle for esteem (self- and otherwise.)
True humility is perspective. It’s not just admitting you aren’t the best, it’s also acknowledging you aren’t the worst. Because to be the absolute worst is as much to be exceptional as to be the best. Very very few people can pretend to either title.
Perspective is important when you seek to lead a public life.
What a writer needs more than ego is humility. Humility to expose ourselves as we really are.
Humility is important in crafting a story. See the story as it is – not as it might be in your mind. Accept that a story is just a story. Accept that there are things a story can’t do all on its own. Accept critique and analyze it dispassionately. All of this requires humility.
Even dealing with rejection is easier with humility than with ego. A humble response to a rejection is: this is true. This story did not work for this market. Let me see why it didn’t work and if it can be fixed or if it needs to go to a different market. An egotistical response is “Fools! I will send this unrevised story directly to the next market and they will beg forgiveness when it wins a Nebula!”
While the latter response does get a story out the door faster, it is not necessarily useful to a writer if the story in question really is flawed.
Be humble. See the flaws. Be humble. See when there isn’t a flaw.
I’m not humble. I’m trying to be. I’m trying to say “I suck” less. It is HARD. Breaking long habits is always hard. It helps for me to remember that I’m not being humble when I do it. I’m being selfish.
Humility. The unappreciated writer’s virtue.