As a person with low self esteem, I probably shouldn’t write books. Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith described writing this way: “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”
Writing is a lot like that for me. It’s an emotional endeavor with, at times, little reward. For every twenty people who love my book, there is one who hates it. Writers like me don’t obsess about the good reviews, but doggone, those harsh ones stick around for a while. (See our Seasoned Authors’ advice on bad reviews here.)
People—and my publisher—tell me I’m a good writer. SCENT OF THE SOUL is a TRR Readers Choice Nominee with blush-worthy reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads. My next novel, SCATTERED SEEDS, has yet to release, but it’s already placed in contests and earned glowing critiques from my peers.
So why don’t I feel “good enough” yet? Will I ever feel good enough? I suppose not. Some of today’s best writers still struggle to get past “I Suck,” the village where I reside.
I’m mystified by those writers with the opposite problem, those egomaniacs who are so awesome they can’t possibly improve upon their writing.
How do you find the middle ground between I-Sucktown and Awesomeville? Is there some valley between the two where a writer can live in peace?
I sat down to discuss the importance of ego with our Seasoned Authors, whose bios follow. You can learn more about them and their work by clicking their names.
Collette Cameron is an Amazon bestselling (3 times Amazon Kindle top 100) and award-winning author of Regency and Scottish romance. If that’s not enough to convince you she knows what she’s doing, how about this? She won the 2013 Sneak Peek Contest, was a 2014 RONE Nominee, a double RONE Finalist in 2015, Aspen Gold Finalist 2015, and 2015 Wisconsin RWA Write Touch Reader’s Choice Winner. At this time, she has nine books under her belt with contracts for four more. She self-published a series, has four group projects already published and two more coming out in early 2016.
Tema Merback ‘s first book was a National Jewish Book Award Finalist entitled “In the Face of Evil,” the story of her mother’s survival of the Holocaust. It took her four years to write, but it was worth it, as it continues to be one of the highest rated books on Amazon and Goodreads. With her hot romance and suspense, she went the self-publishing route. She also writes under a nom de plume, Belle Ami.
Tina Susedik writes romantic mysteries, children’s books, and history books using her real name and erotic romance as Anita Kidesu. Her novel, “Riding for Love” was a finalist in the 2014 BTS awards. She has eleven books and two short stories in print, with two more on the horizon.
Catherine Castle writes sweet and inspirational romance. She has published one novel under the pen name of Catherine Castle and three as a coauthor with her husband. Her books consistently win awards, including the 2014 Beverly Hills Book Award Winner for Inspirational Romance, and a RONE in 2014 for inspirational romance. She was a finalist in the 2014 EPIC awards for an action/adventure romance and was a 2014 Carolyn Readers Choice Award finalist.
Ryan Jo Summers writes romance she calls “a mishmash of inspirational, time travel, shape shifting, paranormal, mystery, any and all combinations of the above.” She has three novels out now and another three coming in 2016. She blogs at https://www.summersrye.wordpress.com
Stacy Hoff writes contemporary romance. She has two anthology stories and three full-length novels to her credit, along with a 2015 “Rising Star” nomination from BTS emag’s Red Carpet Awards.
Jessica Jefferson is a bestselling author of historical romance. Her fifth novel is about to hit the market.
Samanthya Wyatt is a Golden Rose finalist. She writes both historical and contemporary romance, and has four books out at this time.
Petie McCarty is the author of five books, with the sixth coming in December. She writes contemporary paranormal romance for Desert Breeze and Soul Mate Publishing.
Ego: how important is it? Is it important to listen to the voices telling you you’re great, or is it more valuable to admit your flaws and aim to improve your work?
Collette: Good writers always aim to improve their writing and never feel like they’ve arrived, in my opinion.
Tema: I like to think of those ever so profound words from Mary Poppins: “A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down.”
It’s important to admit you have more to learn and accept constructive criticism; however, patting yourself on the back and congratulating yourself on how far you’ve come and how much you’ve improved is just as important. After all, writing is a journey and journeys sometimes take years.
Tina: I go back and forth with this. Some days I NEED to remind myself that someone out there in the publishing world liked what I wrote enough to publish it. That maybe I’m doing something right. Then there are the days when I say to myself, “What makes you think you can write a book?” Self-doubt is always there. The first time someone told me she had my book on her ‘keeper shelf,’ I cried – and cried in front of her. I believe that, like most authors, I’ll write something that I think is wonderful, then go back and read it a few days later and wonder what the heck I was thinking. We are our own worst (or maybe best) critics.
Catherine: Writers need a balance of both of these things. If we didn’t think we were a little great we’d never have the nerve to approach editors. If we don’t think we can improve and keep reaching for the stars, then we’ll probably lose those contracts and never make successes of ourselves. I once heard the story of a NY Times best-selling author who attended a writing workshop while at a big conference where she was the keynote speaker. When asked why, she said “I always have room for improvement and there’s always something I can learn.” If a best-selling author has room for improvement, then surely the rest of us do, too.
Ryan Jo: Ego has no value in a writer’s life. Those of us who make it, sell a script to a publishing house, have been blessed and lucky. We should treat it as the opportunity it is, not boast how great we are. We should never forget there are untold numbers of writers out there who are better than us, who have for whatever reason not been handed the break we just were. We should be thankful and humble, and pay it forward. And yes, by all means, if we want that second, third, etc… book, we had better admit our flaws and work hard at improving our future works. Writing and publishing is hard work. It’s also fun, but it is just that—work. And art, that we must consistently work at to get better at.
Stacy: My ego tells me the opposite, as in “oh no, this story is no good,” with every first draft I do. The most valuable tool I have is persistence. Speaking with other writers in my RWA chapter and on my author’s loops gives me comfort that I’m not alone with this “anti-ego”. We give each other writing advice so we can grow and improve. Maybe it’s our insecurity that keeps us receptive to learning.
Samanthya: Who are those voices telling you, you are great? Your editor—heck yeah. Thank you very much. Your reviewers—yes. Love you. Your friends—are they a tad Biased? Partial? Influenced? You know how good you are. Own it. And be proud. But there is always room for improvement.
Petie: I lost my ego after I gained enough rejection letters to wallpaper my guest bedroom — before I was eventually offered a contract. Ego has no place in publishing — it never helps and only hurts. Appreciate the readers you have, try to attract more, and… keep writing the best book you can!!
What do you do to combat self-doubt?
Collette: A little bit of self-doubt is healthy; it should motivate you to be a better writer. If, however, your self-doubt comes off as needy or whiney, then you need to reassess why you are writing. Wanting constant kudos or encouragement isn’t going to get the book written, make you a better writer, or hone your craft.
Tema: I take the words: “I loved your book!”, or “When is the next book booking out? I can’t wait!”, or “You are such a great writer!”—I spread those words like whipped cream on a dessert and I lick them up. That kind of praise sustains me through the darker moments of self-doubt.
Tina: I mind talk. There are days when it’s tough, but I’m constantly telling myself I’m a good writer, I’m a good person, I’m a good mother, I’m a good ‘whatever,’ because no one else will. I found a new mantra that has helped me combat self-doubt, “Happiness is a choice.” Self-doubt is a happiness drainer. It can bring on depression. Whenever I feel myself sinking into that pit of self-doubt, I remind myself, “Happiness is a choice.” I choose to be happy.
Catherine: I just keep repeating my mantra: I’m an award-winning author. It does wonders for the ego. If you have no awards yet (notice I said yet, because if you work at it, you will sooner or later), find your own ego-boosting mantra and post it where you can see it and repeat it to yourself often. Like the little train that could, we need to keep telling ourselves we can. Eventually, it will happen.
Ryan Jo: Not much of a problem for me, thankfully. I have plenty of it in other areas of my life, but I have enough confidence in my skills as a writer.
Samanthya: Just keep writing and trying to get better at my craft. Every book I write shows an improvement, at least I think so. I’m learning every day. My writing seems to flow better, I’ve taken so many workshops and learned so much, I’m really proud of what I have accomplished.
Petie: I live with self-doubt; I just work to ignore it. I remind myself how happy I am when I’m creating a new story or dolling up a completed story in editing. My mantra: You’re not in this for the money. Works for me.
Are you a confident writer, or my neighbor in Isuckistan?
Up Next Week: Protecting your writing time and space.