discussions writing & publishing

On The Writer’s Ego

It’s easy to see how it happens, how some writers become divas.

And you know the ones I mean. (I’m not pointing out names here. Hell, my ex girlfriends would probably say I’m a diva before I became a writer.)

So you put your book out there, and people talk about it. That’s cool. People on the internet become reasonably animated. They bicker, they praise you, they slag your work off. It’s taken you a year or more to write a book and someone has blasted through their weekend and is most upset at what you’ve written. White noise and flame wars. You understand why many writers decide to go offline entirely. Everyone has their opinion, quite rightly, and many believe their opinion is objective fact, that you should listen to it. And at first you try…

Your first major realisation is that you must build a wall in your mind to protect yourself. If you listen to a hundred opinions on you and what you’re doing, your mind will bubble over – you simply cannot listen to them all, you can’t please everyone. There are still books to write, from behind the sanctuary of your wall. The wall stops you worrying, lets you concentrate and get on with writing (remember that?).

Once you’re behind this wall though, it’s easy to believe yourself, rather than believe in yourself. Behind the wall, there’s largely your own voice, telling you to get on with writing, that you’re good enough. If that’s the only voice you’re listening to, then you’re in big trouble too. You might start to ignore editors, or forget that you write to be read – you know, by real people. Pretty soon you’re kicking off on forums because people don’t get your latest magnum opus. (How can they not understand you?) Or worse, you kick off on Amazon about it.

It’s a very fine line between protecting yourself, and divahood.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

11 replies on “On The Writer’s Ego”

I was always under the impression that you folk (writers) wrote first and foremost for yourselves, that if other people liked it then that was a bonus. That being the case, why care? We all know that opinions are like arseholes, everyone’s got one.

Of course, that’s the first reason. But why care? Because you want people to like what you’ve done, right? Because you like the thrill of an audience? Because it hurts a little when someone hates what you’ve done? Because it is your job – whether you like it or not – to write books which people buy.

I’m not saying anyone suffers specifically, just that I can understand where the writer ego / diva complex develops.

Hi Mark.
I was wondering how much, if any, the response so far has influenced your thoughts/approach to the following book(s)? Is there a temptation to change anything to perhaps please/reach more people at the cost of your original artistic vision?

Hey Ollie. Luckily I managed to write the bulk of the second book before the reviews came in. The thing which is different this time around is that now I’m not trying to get contract, I already have one. This mind-shift has meant I can let myself go a bit more, and really go to town on the next book.

But yes, it is hard not to let what people have said alter what I have in mind. Maybe my response is to any of the collective criticism, and to say to them, You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Hmm. I’m waffling. Perhaps more thoughts are needed.

What’s the use in compromising yourself? But it doesn’t mean you don’t change, grow, get better. When you write you must be able to detect somehow (internal crap-o-meter?) whether or not you’re giving your best. Do you think of your writing as art or as a product, or as some other necessary chimera? I don’t know what or where exactly that question points to.

The blog is good though.

To an extent, of course you can detect whether or not you’re giving your best. But ignoring advice (especially editorial) is dangerous. Ultimately though this is all about how a set of protective tools can do damage without a level of self-awareness.

As for thinking of writing as an art or product? It is both. Publishing is a business after all.However, when I’m actually writing, I’m not thinking about any of that.

Thanks for the link; Ms Rice made me laugh.

I’m of the old school: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Oh, and one more thing, your editor ought to be your very best friend.

I think it’s impossible not to be influenced by good/bad reviews, other than to never read them. That or drink a hell of a lot after reading some bad ones.

How would you feel in a scenario where a consistent criticism about book one, is still present in book 2? Would there be a temptation to alter it then, even from the editors?

I think the dangerous part would be when you start ignoring the editors and scream “I know what I’m doing, the fans love it” when the editing is probably a big part of why the fans liked it. There are too many “break-out” authors whose later books become overbloated through, what i suspect, is lack of editing.

For me I’d find it hard to hold my tongue about other authors, which could be problematic if you ever have to sit at a panel with them.

I find it very off putting when writers/musicians/pretty much anyone selling me their product, behaves like an ass and it makes me not want to put my money their way. On the other hand, the fatal flaw with the internet is the ease and immediacy of firing back and how hard it is to retract it once said. She did go on a bit though.

People should use the “overnight rule” when it comes to posting angry rants. If you read it the next day and still feel it’s justified, post it. In my experience it rarely is.

I agree with Hagelrat in that it’s really disappointing when an artist you admire turns out to be an a-hole.

Nik: true on both accounts, certainly. Though I hope enough of a friend to point out when I’m being a bit of a clown.

Neil: I think it depends on what the criticism is. Ultimately, you’ve got to keep doing what you do, and try to block out as much of the criticism as possible, or respectfully know it exists, then move on. Generally, the very British tradition of being gentlemanly no matter who you’re in conversation with, critical fan or author on a panel, goes a long way…

Hagelrat: absolutely. I’ve said so many times to others that the author is the brand, not the books. The internet searches are first and foremost for the author. If the author acts like a tit, that’s the brand that gets tarnished…

It’s an interesting age we live in, where authors can respond to such things. Maybe they should, maybe they shouldn’t. There are no firm rules for these things yet.

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