Last week I read a large handful of comments from various people on social networking groups, on a few different blogs, and from a journalist, referring to the “independent nature” of writing as an activity. The phrase I saw repeated, more than once, was that “writing is an ego-driven activity”. Honestly, I was pretty shocked to see this theme so prevalent in the communication and updates I saw. And it struck something in me that I had to let sit over the weekend.
I’m sure these various people did not mean anything negative by what they shared, and I very easily see where they’re coming from in drawing these conclusions. But I wanted to make my own clarifications here, just to stop the domino effect of this outlook on writers.
It’s true that any type of writing, from fiction to memoirs, short stories to novels, is a vastly independent way to showcase one’s skills with the written word. It’s awfully hard to really work on your writing when you’re surrounded by lots of people or lots of noise, when you don’t have the “right conditions” that allow both creativity and focus. There are people out there who co-author novels and projects, but most novels are written by only one person. It’s also true that a good number of writers naturally isolate themselves to hone their craft, and may be a bit more introverted than the next guy. These are only observations of the majority, mind you – not blanket statements about writers.
However, “ego” and “writing” are not synonymous. Personally, I have never met a writer who thought more of themselves, was more “egocentric” and “ego-driven”, the more they wrote. And I have never met an author, published or unpublished, who did not jump at the opportunity to talk about writing (not just their own, but others’ works too), or share tips and experiences, or offer advice. I’ve even met those who will write free reviews of others’ books, who will recommend writers to agents, publishers, editors, and other writing service professionals, who will lift up and encourage budding writers for nothing other than the reward of helping another person who understands the all-consuming passion of creating new worlds through words.
And I’ve never met a writer who didn’t at least sound phenomenally grateful and excited to receive valid, constructive, positive feedback from anyone – fellow writer, avid reader, or their own editor.
The drive to write, for myself and for every other author with whom I’ve spoken, is not about our “egos”. It is not, at least initially, with the intent to make lots of money and become famous. It is not to “wow” our friends and families with tales of our wordy achievements, of how many pages we’ve written and how many stories we’ve finished. That, to me, is what makes an “ego-driven” activity. And I don’t see any of that in my writing, nor in the writing of the hundreds of other authors with whom I interact, for work and for play.
Both as a freelance editor and in working with CWC as Story Coordinator and Chief Editor, I have never had a writer’s “ego” get in the way of edits to a chapter or novel, or in submissions to a collaboration project. Every single person I’ve worked with has been generous, humble, willing and eager to participate, and grateful for feedback and hard work that other writers put into the same project, or their own.
If writing were so truly “ego-driven”, Laura Callender would not have founded CWC as it is today – a miraculous gathering of over 170 international writers who come together to write a full-length novel, one chapter at a time. That is one of the hardest things I can imagine, to write only a chapter, one unfinished section, and not have any control over the story that came before it, or where the following chapters will take it.
If writing were so truly ego-driven, there wouldn’t be such amazing social media groups like An Author’s Tale, established, organized, and moderated by Cayce Berryman. Yes, this is a closed group, but all it takes to join is a love of the written word and an eagerness to network and join forces with other phenomenally talented writers. This is not a group for pure promotion – in fact self-promotion is pushed to the background. Here, writers can talk about their issues with writing, their inspirations and fears, what brought them to where they are now, and where to go in the future. Relationships bloom, people work together, and I’ve seen people edit works, give detailed critiques of query letters and excerpts, and design artwork for one another, all completely free of charge. And Cayce has stayed at the “top of my list” with the way she constantly engages the group’s members, encourages them to interact with each other and to test the boundaries of their own creative powers, as well as their comfort zones.
If writing were so truly ego-driven, there wouldn’t be places like Writing Fiction, where readers can get a free copy of an author’s published book in exchange for only an honest review posted to Amazon. There wouldn’t be complete sites like Writers Helping Writers, who encourage guest bloggers to share their knowledge on certain writing topics, who publish Encyclopedias dedicated to teaching writers how to focus on certain psychological aspects of their characters to make internal conflict more believable.
If all writers were truly “ego-driven”, no one would ask for an editor. No one would ask for a review, or an opinion, or a critique. Nobody would share their work until the finished product was published and everyone had to pay for a copy.
It makes sense that the writers who share more of their work with more people, who ask for feedback and who want constructive criticism, will be “better” writers than those who don’t. They get advice and tips from so many different writers and readers, and they take that feedback as they will and use it (or not) to improve their writing. The writers in my own community, people I work with every day, are some of the most gracious, humble, and talented individuals I’ve yet to meet – and most of them in the online sphere, where one doesn’t necessarily have to be genuine to create a presence.
Most of you already know this. Most of you reading this are writers, or know writers, or love and support writers. These people define themselves by what they create, by the act of writing itself and, more importantly, by their need to share fantastic stories with the rest of the world. Writing itself is not an “ego-driven” activity. Like any pastime, career, or form of entertainment, the “ego” comes from “ego-driven people“. Fortunately, in my experience those people are few and far between.
Writing does not have to be solitary, nor hermetic, nor solely for one’s own personal gain. And all it takes is a little bit of reaching out, of offering something of yourself and your own work, to find that out for yourself.
And for those of you who don’t write, just remember that we do this for you, to share our characters and our stories in the only way we know how. More often than not, we even forget ourselves in the process.