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).