Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wrestling With My Ego

SF author Steven Barnes is a big believer in a three-pronged approach to life. He says that if you simultaneously attack the physical (health and fitness), emotional (relationships) and mental (career) spheres of life all at once, it gives your ego no place to hide. Whatever personal demons you have, they'll be flushed out into the open where you can identify and deal with them.

He also talks quite a bit about the ego and how it will often sabotage your attempts to do things that threaten to move you out of your comfort zone. Change is scary, especially if your ego is invested in who/what you are now. Even good change can be scary. The ego will resist, and it will try to convince you to stop trying. Anyone who stretches himself will generally be familiar with the little voice that tells you you're doomed to fail, that giving up now will save you pain.

Writers deal with that a lot. Even when you've reached the stratospheric realm of Big Name Author you still get rejections. And they still hurt--but as a professional, you've learned to simply go on. When you're still a newbie, it's tougher.

So...I wrote a novel in November. I wrote it, finished it, and didn't let anyone see it. I was convinced that it was no good, a meandering, pointless, uninteresting mess. I intended never to let it see the light of day. But a funny thing happened.

My spouse--my supportive, cheerleading spouse and critical first reader--expressed an interest in seeing it. Several times. So I opened the file up a while ago wasn't nearly as bad as I remembered it being. In fact, it wasn't bad at all. So I emailed it to said spouse to read.

Spouse liked it. Spouse liked it a lot. There were a couple of valid criticisms, among them a couple of very explicit sex scenes that didn't find the tone of the rest of the book. (I ascribe those to "I need to write something on this NaNoWriMo project today, what can I write? I know! Sex!") The ending is also rather abrupt--another artifact of writing it for NaNo.

But overall, it was a hit. It's too short, at 50,000 words, to be published as is. I can add to it, though, and clean up the other problems. And then...despite all the fear and bluster my ego has thrown my way, I'll have a novel to send out.

This exercise has also given me more confidence that the curent (second) novel I'm working on is better than I feel like it is at the moment. I am not the best judge of my work. I know that intellectually, but emotionally I still have some learning to do.

I will learn, though. I will. And in the mean time, I will--as they say in NLP circles--act as if I beleived it until I do believe it. I'll fake it til I make it.


  1. Great advice :) It is weird how we tend to talk ourselves into thinking how crap our writing is most of the time...I think maybe I started doing it when I first started writing to soften the blow- so to speak- If I told myself this is pretty bad and someone read it and hated it- then I guess I figured it wouldn't hurt so much... It's just very hard to put what you write out there no matter how hard you've worked on it.
    Now I tell myself I know I can do it- but that's almost as bad- now there's even more pressure to hope people like it!!!

  2. Yes, it is weird. And also not so weird. Everyone has resistance to moving out of their comfort zone--even, quite often, when the "comfort zone" isn't all that comfortable. But it's familiar, predictable and thus "safe"--so better the devil you know....

    On the other hand, if you always do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. Change is how you improve things. It's also how you can mess things up, sometimes, so it's uncertain and scary. Your ego hates that. Thus, the nagging voice of doom and gloom that every writer must learn to ignore.