Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Check Your Ego At The Door

As a writer, you'll have the biggest ego in the world, and no ego at all, at the same time.

--JA Konrath

I can't tell you how this sentence resonated with me. It's something I've been wanting to blog about for a while, but for whatever reason I haven't been able to nail down my thoughts in a coherent fashion. It's a hard concept to grasp—the idea that you can have all the confidence in the world when it comes to your writing, yet no confidence at all. It's one of those things that when spoken aloud raises eyebrows and earns you "the look" from family and friends. But say it to another writer, and hopefully he/she understands exactly what you mean. If not, you may be in trouble. (kidding) Rest assured. I get it. Boy, do I get it.

I've even coined a term for this "disorder."


And boy is it a wild ride on the crazy train.

By nature, we as writers have to have a certain level of confidence to do what we do. After all, we're basically saying to the world that we have stories to tell that people will WANT to read. Sure, we write for ourselves because we enjoy the experience of telling a story…but at the same time, most of us ultimately want to be published. Let's face it…we all started out thinking we were the shit when it came to storytelling. Don't apologize for this. It's only natural. You could say it's a requirement…an asset you need in the bank before you start down this path.

I remember I blogged a couple of years ago about one of my aunt's friends. It was early in my writing journey—as I recall I had just come out of the writing closet with my family. This woman found out I was writing and pulled me aside during a party to tell me how much she envied me. That writing a novel was her secret dream. At the time I think I had just finished my first book and I was riding the high of making it to The End. When I urged her to go for it, she quickly backed down and said it was too late in life for her to try. I'll admit I was kinda self-righteous at the time. I remember saying on my blog that even if my book went nowhere, even if it was never published, at least I had the courage to try. That I didn't let fear stand in my way of living out my dream. I, unlike this woman, showed some balls.

What I realize now is that I didn't give her feelings enough consideration. I WAS this woman at one point in my life. We all were. Remember how downright scary it was to decide to write a book? Remember the insecurities – the worries you had? Is this story going to be good enough? Will it be interesting – will people like it? Will I be laughed off the writing stage if/when I show it to people? I mean, raise your hand if you kept quiet about what you were doing, not telling anyone for some time. Heck, there may be some of you who still haven't told anyone. Wherever you are in your writing career, you must admit those initial steps were SCARY. Quite honestly, I can't pinpoint with any certainty what pushed me though that barrier of doubt. What prompted me to say to hell with fear, I'm going for it. All I can is that I am SO grateful that I did. It isn't easy to take that leap, so be proud of yourself if you have. And if you haven't – DO IT. It isn't easy, but trust me, you'll be so grateful if you do.

Want to know something really terrifying? It doesn't get any easier.

Oh, you grow in confidence when it comes to the basics of storytelling. The more you write, the better versed in the mechanics you become. I can say with all certainty that I'm a better writer than I was when I began. I know this. I have confidence in it.

But deep down I'm still plagued with so many insecurities. They rear their ugly heads in all kinds of situations—even some surprising ones.

Think back to the first time you showed your writing to another person. I'm talking _the first time_ you printed out, emailed, whatever…your work to another living human being and waited for his/her response. Are you having an anxiety attack the way I am right now? Remember the nervous anxiety you had – the knots in the pit of your stomach? Remember how excited and proud you were that you had created something that before was just a blank page – a jumble of words that you organized into a coherent (at least that was the hope) story with a beginning, middle, and an end? Remember how at the time it felt like everything was riding on what this one person had to say? How with a few negative or positive words that person could impact your entire future?

Well, that's me every time I show my work to someone. Every Time.

I set out to show my work with Complete Confidence. I know it's good. Damn good. Only…

Somewhere in that millisecond between when my finger hits the 'send' button and I realize it's actually winging its way out to a reader or readers…there's a flip of the switch. Anxiety kicks in. Oh shit…

My Writing Is Crap!

All I want to do is pluck that email/blog post/whatever out of existence and go hide under my bed. I'll be safe there. I won't have to worry about whether or not people like it. No one will laugh at my poor grammar or the fact that that scene I thought was SO funny is SO not.

Friends often laugh at me. They say, 'Oh Jen, why do you always give these long disclaimers when you send me something? You always say it's going to be bad and it never is.'

I'll admit, I do have my mantras.

"Remember…this is first draft. It needs a lot of cleanup."

"Ummm….I just whipped this out, remember? Go easy on me."

"I still need to flesh this out a bit…it's just the bare bones…"

In reality what I'm saying is: Please say you love this!

I'll admit these disclaimers probably sound like a heap of false modesty. That I'm fishing for compliments. But in reality, I'm scared shitless that someone is going to say… "Yanno, Jen…you really can't write for shit." It's my biggest fear. That I'll be found out for the fraud that I am.

Oh the neurotic life I lead.

So yes, when JA Konrath made the statement:

As a writer, you'll have the biggest ego in the world, and no ego at all, at the same time.

I Got It.

I live in fear when I write, but the important thing is, I do it anyway.

Who's with me? Shall we start holding NWS-anonymous meetings? J


  1. (stands) My name is Deniz and I'm a Neurotic Writer.
    (sounds of clapping, murmurs of agreement)
    I can't show anything to anyone until it's in at least third draft and then I get so nervous - I can't stand to hear my own work read out loud (my mom does this - you hand her something to read and she starts reading it aloud! What are we, living in Ancient Greece?)
    The worst is non-writers that I've emailed snips to. Sometimes they don't reply! Argh! Have they read it or not? Don't they realise I need feedback??

  2. Terrific post, Jen.

    I think I may be in a similar but slightly different category - the pessimistic-neurotic writer. (g) When I write, I give it my best shot, and on occasion I may think what I've written is pretty good, but all the while I am certain that I'll be able to make it even better the second (or third, or fourth) time round. Mainly because that's how I would write back in my lawyering days - get everything out of my head and on to the page, then go back and tweak and revise and refine so that the end result was ten times sharper, clearer than that first outpouring. So that's why I'm reluctant to hand over early drafts of my work for anyone to read - I *know* it's not as good as it can be.

    And even after I've revised the hell out of my MS and send it off to the poor souls who volunteer to beta read, I'll be right there with you, hiding under my bed! LOL. Who'd be a writer?? (g)