Last week, I found out I won first round of a writing contest I entered. I was completely floored.
Right after I got the results from my first story, I had to jump right in to the next round. It would have been easy to have entered the second round with a butt-ton of hubris.
That would be the ego: The dreadful little monster that either tells you you’re the best, or that you’re terrible. Or sometimes both. Both of these messages are toxic, and neither serves your journey.
Your first instinct will always be self-preservation: that’s your ego. You’ll want to bat away things that could hurt your feelings. And you KNOW you’ve got a ton of feelings tied up in your writing. There’s nothing wrong with any of this; it’s just that it will interfere with your growth.
I’ve had some personal experience with ego-driven critique responses. I read for someone where every criticism I offered was met with an explanation or clapback. “That’ll be explained in the next chapter.” “I’m saving that subplot for the next book.” “I want readers to figure this out for themselves.” After a while, I stopped reading and offering critiques.
No critiquing partnership will fully agree about everything, and that’s totally fine. But if I’m spending time and energy to offer feedback, I want to feel like it is for a purpose. I don’t have time and energy to offer to folks who are just going to swat it away.
There is always room for your skills to grow. There is always room for your work to improve. But if you make excuses or arguments, you won’t see those improvements. Even worse, you risk alienating those who are giving you such valuable feedback.
In my creative writing courses in University, writers were not allowed to talk while our piece was being discussed. It was torture!
After you get used to it, having to STFU made for a really reflective experience. It’s almost an out-of-body experience to hear a roomful of people discuss the story I wrote. You learn pretty quickly to have emotional distance from your work, when you hear a bunch of people talking about it.
Unlearning this emotional self-protection is essential to your growth as an artist. Growth happens fully outside of your comfort zone, and if you are protecting your feelings, that necessarily precludes growth.
As you move forward in your writing journey, try to notice that voice that works to protect your sense of self. Defensive stuff like, That person doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Or self-aggrandising stuff like, This is the best story. Or even the beating-yourself-up stuff like, Who do you think you are? You’ll never be any good. It’s all ego, and it’s all shit.
When you notice that stuff, try not to worry too much. Thank your ego for trying to protect you, then say, “Now shut the hell up.” And move on with your day.
Recognising the voice of your ego is the same as recognising any other negative self-talk. Notice, ignore, then move on. Then, no matter what happens on your writing journey–criticism or praise–accept it with humility and try to use it to grow.
Featured image was created by the author, using elements from canva.com.