[UPDATE: I don’t know what happened with my post today. The text came out white on Google Reader I was told. I tried to fix it and stuff happened. So here it is again]
We all have egos. We all enjoy being praised by others, being recognized, even singled out. We sometimes talk of the “healthy ego.” The drive to be good at something, and to have achievement recognized and rewarded, is a sign of a healthy ego.
But when those desires start to take over, the ego becomes unhealthy. Surveys of today’s young peopleconsistently show that their overarching goal is not to be a good citizen, have a family, or contribute something lasting to society. It’s to become rich and famous.
The unhealthy ego lurks in the shadows. It secretly wishes to see perceived competition fail, and gets envious when someone else achieves what it so desperately wants for itself.
Ann Lamott wrote about the latter in her great book on writing, Bird by Bird:
If you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with [envy] because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you . . .You are going to feel awful beyond words. you are going to have a number of days in a row where you hate everyone and don’t believe in anything. if you do know the author whose turn it is, he or she will inevitably say that it will be your turn next, which is what the bride always says to you at each successive wedding, while you grow older and more decayed.
It can wreak just the tiniest bit of havoc with your self-esteem to find that you are hoping for small bad things to happen to this friend—for, say, her head to blow up.
Recently, it has been proposed that author ego will actually save traditional publishing. According to marketing consultant Rob Eagar, most writers still desire the stamp of approval and validation that comes from being signed by big publisher:
All authors come standard with a healthy dose of ego. It takes cojones to tell the world, “I’ve written a book and you should read it.” And, the ego will never disappear, no matter what social media or digital technology might bring. The inner influence of ego makes a critical impact upon the way an author chooses to make his or her work public. That’s why the author ego may be the single biggest reason that publishers will continue to survive.
The love/hate relationship between authors and publishers has endured for over a century. Digital self-publishing and e-books represent wonderful new opportunities. But, the power of new technology is no match against the power of human nature. Therefore, publishers need not fear extinction. The literary ecosystem is bound by an unseen force that affects every author. What’s the point of publishers? To exist and thrive by keeping the author ego healthy and alive.
It’s true that many unpublished fiction writers still consider the touch of a traditional publisher’s wand as the summum bonum of the writing life. Certainly that was true up until the recent past. But is it still true today?
Only if you want it to be. If having a publisher’s name on the spine of your book is important to you, go for it. It’s certainly fun to walk into a Barnes & Noble in Schenectady, New York, and see your book face out on a shelf. Heck, I once found one of my books cover out in a little book shop in Stratford-Upon- Avon! Are you kidding me? Me on display in Bill Shakespeare’s hometown?
But there is an increasing number of writers making a living via self-publishing who see this industry as a business for profit, not a venue for validation.
The nice thing is the choice is finally the writer’s to make.
As for a healthy writer’s ego, I’d say it sounds like this: I write because I believe have what it takes to tell stories. I write because an inner fire compels me, and I am committed to working hard to make myself the best writer I can be. I write for readers. They are my ultimate reward.
So what does a healthy writer’s ego look like to you?