Dealing with Writer's Ego
I have not written in 5 months.
Not consistently, anyway. It has been a rough few months emotionally, and it took nearly half a year for me to feel ready to tackle a writing project again. There were several factors which added up to what became the most severe writing drought I have ever weathered, but I think the downward spiral was sparked by what is common enough for many creators:
My delicate ego had been bruised.
I'm not making light of the gravity of this event (okay, maybe a little). It really was painful to endure, and if you have ever experienced a similar sudden crushing weight of self-doubt, you know what I'm talking about. What happened is this: I sent my story out to a beta reader, excited to hear their feedback and ready to make corrections. The beta reader warned me that their style of editing could be a little overwhelming and that they tended to write every thought that popped into their head while reading, and that they were not all positive. Great, I thought. Honest feedback! I was excited at the prospect of having a real beta read through the story I had been querying without luck for months. I wanted help on what to cut from my story, and I knew I needed a fresh pair of eyes to help me do that. I thought I was ready to endure even the harshest of feedback.
I was wrong.
The beta reader tore my beloved story to shreds. Every time I opened a new comment, I felt my heart sink. It got to the point where I was afraid to open my email because I knew I would find more negativity, more problems with the story I had spent nearly ten years pouring my soul into, more reasons why I could never succeed as a real writer. I was crushed. It destroyed my self confidence, and pushed me into a hole of despair that grew harder and harder to try to climb out of.
Basically, I was mourning the excellent story I had thought I had written. I was under no illusions that the story was perfect; I knew I needed help, and I was ready to accept constructive criticism. And the beta wasn't cruel by any means—they had warned me of their style, and I accepted the risk anyway.
I don't think I'm alone in experiencing this kind of cut-down. Every artist, at some point in their career, needs to be torn down by some comment (or series of comments) in order to grow. Some times these setbacks last days, sometimes years—but everyone experiences them at some point. Mine took months to overcome—this time. I'm sure there will be plenty more in my future.
But having experienced my first attack of what I am calling "Writer's Ego", I feel stronger as an artist. I know I can be knocked down and still find the strength to get up again. We are resilient by nature, and while it's no fun to have that resilience tested, it is good to experience drawbacks. How else would we grow?
If you, too, are undergoing an attack of Writer's Ego, here are a few tips that helped me through:
1. Let yourself feel whatever you're feeling. It was hard for me to accept how sad and angry I was about the comments my beta made, but denying those emotions only prolonged my experience. Go ahead and let yourself be hurt and upset. It's hard to hear negative things about your story, even if you later realize them to be true. But you can't work to fix anything until you've accepted that there's a problem.
2. Take a break. I couldn't look at my story for months after my beta finished ripping it to shreds. Every time I opened the document I felt consumed by doubt and negativity, so I stopped working on it. I stopped looking at it and stopped thinking about it, which would have been fine if I didn't also feel so guilty about it. "Real writers write every day", right? I went months without writing anything except emails and lesson plans. Does that mean I stopped being a real writer during that time? Of course not. It means I was a hurting person dealing with the messy side of creativity. I think if I would have given myself grace and allowed myself the time to heal, it wouldn't have taken nearly as long to bounce back.
3. Find a community. The community that brought me out of my funk was the one surrounding National Novel Writing Month. I couldn't help getting sucked into the joy and excitement surrounding the event, and little by little I found myself being pulled back into the love of writing. It was still a struggle some days, but I found that I could return to my story without hating it or feeling like a "bad writer" any time I opened the document. Find that community, whether it's through a Facebook group, the writing community on Twitter, or a local writing club. Find a group of people who can support you, and who you can support.
And the next time Writer's Ego shows up, let it happen and let yourself grow as a result of whatever drawback you face.