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Criticism, Ruminations, Writing and Depression, Writings

Where I Go, Ego

I’ve always been a fairly confident writer. Back in college, when I was editor of the school paper, my assistant editor used to refer to me with, “Where I go, ego.” It was mostly a joke (I wasn’t the complete snob you might think), but it was an accurate assessment of how I viewed my journalism.

Of my fiction, however, I was not so sure. A few years later I was in an undergrad creative writing class, and did well enough that my professor asked me to join her personal writing group. I had written what I thought were some good stories for the class, but when it was my turn to submit to the new group, I had nothing. I wrote a story anyway, and it was, admittedly, awful. The members had no problem letting me know it. It may be an exaggeration, but I remember the next meeting as something of a feeding frenzy—the same kind of treatment, by the way, that the class had given some writers who turned in flawed stories. The humiliation was enough that I never went to another meeting—not for more than twenty years. I remained in journalism and eventually parlayed that into my own communications business before selling it and getting back into fiction.

I’m a lot more confident about the fiction now. I still write the occasional clunker, but like a pitcher who gives up eight runs in the first inning, my attitude is “Okay, I blew that one, but I’ll get ’em next game.”

The difference? Age and experience no doubt, but also a baseline confidence. You can read that as “ego” if you like. But you’ve got to have it if you want to write. I’ve read several books about writing, and they all say to learn how to take criticism, to accept the good and let the rest bounce off. But they don’t talk about the writer’s ego, that fundamental value that keeps you writing no matter how badly your last story was savaged, because, damn it, you know you can do it. If you don’t have a strong enough ego about your writing, eventually the criticism will get to you, because people (especially other writers), love to be critical (see my other posts on criticism for more on this).

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About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Where I Go, Ego

  1. I don’t see that as ego. You’re right about, though. All writers need patience, endurance, and the ability to shrug off criticism.

    I’ve known many other people who critique my work. By far, other writers are the harshest. They judge your work with that “ego.” Some have it worse than others, to the point where they are demeaning. After that point, the critique/comment is pointless and counterproductive.

    Posted by Elisa Michelle | September 7, 2009, 12:11 PM
  2. Thanks for sharing this honestly. Writing is what I truly enjoy. I’ve recently began writing poetry. When I submit what I’ve wrote to my friends and others, I always ask for honest opinions about my work. People that write are absolutely the worst ones. I don’t have a problem with constructive criticism. The problem is when people put their personal opinions in instead of giving you honest advice according to writing techniques.

    Posted by growing1 | September 8, 2009, 5:33 AM
  3. That’s the thing with the arts- ego. No one’s ego is half as involved or half as neccesary in say, being an office worker. You do your job and go home. But, with the creative skill set, it’s a personal matter-because it’s not just ego, per se, it’s mixed up in identity. We writers think of ourselves as writers. It’s not just what we do, but who we are. I’ve always excelled at writing; I’ve always written; I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was six. When I went to college for creative writing, I just assumed I was great. I assumed I was a “natural.” I had a similar experience of having my work shredded in my first workshop, but it was good for me. Not because I needed to be taken down a peg- but because rejection and failure are also a huge part of the arts, like sore muscles and injuries in sports. You need to be able to accept criticism and rejection, and if it doesn’t motivate you to work harder, writing isn’t for you. I’ve been frustrated with my work, and I’ve felt like I can’t hack it or I should just give up- but I can’t. It’s who I am. I am a writer. And its pointless to me to have say, my mother or husband critique my work. Would you rather have a chef look over your taxes for you or an accountant? Great post-sincere and insightful. I look forward to reading more.

    Posted by moondaria | September 8, 2009, 12:27 PM
  4. Great comments. Thanks. From the things the commenters said about handling criticism and rejection, I read that in a sense, ego can also be looked at as courage—the ability to stand up to the obstacles that are put up to keep writers from being successful.

    Posted by jpon | September 8, 2009, 2:06 PM

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