Sunday, January 22, 2012


I've been thinking about different aspects of being a writer. Writers like to examine the lives of others, it's part of our job description, but we also examine ourselves and our colleagues. Here's the thing about ego--you have to have it, and in full measure, in order to even begin a writer's life, much less sustain the momentum over a lifetime of work.

I know that ego gets a bad rap and I never understood why. I suppose it's because when we think of a person of large ego, we think of a prattling ass-hat who has little merit and who can do little other than blow his own horn. The way I see ego in a writer as essential, however, is the deeper look, the closer examination. If you do not have a good, healthy ego, you don't get anywhere in this world, in any profession, and that goes for a writing life.

I do remember the first days of my writing life. I was 17-18 years old and full of it. I thought the world would hang the moon for me and I'd certainly deserve it. I think when we are teenagers we think that way just to get to adulthood. I would write a little short story--that today I realize was no short story at all but my efforts TO LEARN HOW to write a short story--and I would sit and think, Oh, that's wonderful, that's so good. As I aged and grew in both worldly life experience and writing experience, I finally came to the truth, but it was still shaded by ego. It had to be or I would have given up and quit right then. But my ego was tempered with the experience and the years. Still, it was an awesome thing. It was this big bright bubble that I walked in and it made me believe I would be great one day. At least I knew I wasn't great yet. But I sure hoped to be great and all writers should hope for that. Note I didn't say a writer's ego hopes to be rich and famous. Save that for the actors, most of them. Writers won't turn away from rich and famous, but the good ones just want to learn how to be better, how to be great. It's the dream you reach for and you keep reaching.

Now without this healthy ego, a writer does not write, does not create, and never publishes or succeeds. Ego is our belief in ourselves and it's a good thing. We have to have it. Very much like other artists--singers, painters, dancers, and actors--we have to nurse the ego and keep it alive. Especially in the days (now becoming the old days of the past publishing paradigm) when a writer had to find a way to get published by traditional publishers. Because rejection in that world is the rule, not the exception. I used to keep a big notebook and write down every story I wrote, where it was submitted, when it was rejected. That notebook filled up with pages before there was the first sale, the very first sale. What took me through that long maelstrom if not ego and belief in self? When rejection was telling me I was not ready, I was not good enough to be in print, I just kept going. Because I kept going, I learned to write better. I took all this extremely seriously because it was my life's quest and my ego told me I could do it--maybe not this year, it said, maybe not next year, but you'll do it. If I was easily brushed off, if my feelings were so sensitive they hung out on my shirt sleeve, I wouldn't have made it. I had the desire, the drive, and the belief that I could make this work. It just had to. And I'd find a way to improve and to succeed. I had a lifetime to perfect the art. I'd do the best I could and I believed my best would get me to where I wanted to go.

When an editor returned a manuscript with a little note saying the dialogue was stiff, I began to study dialogue in fiction and educated myself. I acquired an ear and had a good memory, so I was able to keep whole conversations in my head that I'd heard. I noted inflections, mannerisms, body language. I became a psychologist of the human heart because until I did, I could not bring characters alive, and if characters were not alive for me, they wouldn't live for readers either. When I got any kind of feedback from editors, I set myself to learning how to overcome the criticism to the point it would never be said to me again.

Is that ego? Sure it is, the healthy ego, the writer's ego. No matter what naysayers said, I'd keep going and learn what I had to in order to have the work accepted. I was the most determined writer ever while raising children, taking care of a grandmother, dealing with a husband's fluctuating job situation, and rejection upon rejection. Every rejections said to me YOU'RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Of course I wasn't, but I didn't believe that really. I believed I was good enough and I'd show them just how good I was. That was my ego talking, whispering in my ear that it was going to be all right, I'd get what I wanted, I just had to persevere and I had to believe and I had to take the criticism and turn it into praise.

I don't mind when I see other writers these days hawking their wares on the web. It's the biggest billboard in the world so you can't blame them. Writing is an isolated job and you need feedback, at least on occasion; you need someone to say I read your book/story, and I liked it. That's all you need, that's all your ego has to have to survive. Even the ass-hats are lovable in their own ways because I think we can all be ass-hats now and then. Just because most writers are smart doesn't mean they're media experts or able to come across with their promotion efforts looking anything other than what it is--the ego clamoring for attention. Because a writer's life is hard most of the time. It's a difficult life trip. We don't get near the attention of actors--even bad, Grade B actors. We don't usually end up on TV or have great museum exhibits of our work or get to stand on a stage before our audience and receive their applause and adulation. We are quiet, secluded creatures working inside our heads, trying to get the story out through our fingers and onto a screen and then into the hands of a print publisher or into an e-book. We deserve the right to our ego, because it preserves us, it delivers us, it makes it all possible.

So the next time you see a writer on the web promoting his work, be a little forgiving, have a little understanding, give a little shrug and think, he works hard, he's just telling me about that work, he doesn't think he's better than me or smarter than me or more successful than me. He's just trying to do part of his job and he has an ego--a healthy ego. Writers are human, too, and only once in a while are they ass-hats--just like people in other professions.


  1. An outstanding post, one that a lot of writers would do well to read. A very healthy and informative--even confrontational--essay, and by someone who has traveled down the road so many of us are trying to navigate.

    Thank you, Mrs. Mossiman,

    And know that probably thousands of people read your blog for every single comment left. And they leave your site the better for having visited.


    1. Thanks, Rob. I know that authors all over the web are promoting their wares and it annoys some people. I just wanted those who get annoyed to know how it feels to BE a writer and to give those authors, including myself, a little slack. I didn't mean to be confrontational. I'm just sort of...Peculiar.