How Your Well-meaning Ego Kills Dreams

By Donald Huffman

It’s almost like having a dream comes along with its own self-destruction mechanism.  A built-in kill switch.  There’s a fundamental part of us that wants nothing to do with change.  Evolutionarily, it makes sense.  If there’s food in the stomach and roof overhead, why change a winning formula?  I think this is the ego.  Its job is to protect you, and it’s quite effective. The ego is big on the past. “Don’t walk underneath that tree.  Remember when that colony of bees attacked you from a tree that looked just like that?”  And it is also big on the future.  When you start preparing yourself to be a serious writer, alarms are signaled.  The ego, like a crafty doctor caring for their deranged patient, will offer you a fantasy life around your aspiring dreams in order to keep you safe and static.  It will prescribe for you judgments that generate emotions that can lead to binge-watching a series instead of writing. It only wants to protect you, but it can mean the death of an artistic life if left unchecked. Here is what I’ve found to be the contrast between a writer underneath the care of the ego and a writer taking control of their art.

  • The ego is preoccupied with perfection and control. Creation is unpredictable:  Being a for-real writer is incredibly hard for the ego to grapple with.  The ego wants constants and to have immediate access to all information.  Writing is a contradiction of this.  All writers know that they can only come up with rough outlines for their work.  The fingers, the keyboard, and the pen take it from there as the writing takes on life and direction of its own.  Writing is simply unpredictable.
  • The ego is concerned with a smooth ride. Creation is often painful and wrought with failure:  Writing involves failure.  It has to.  A baby stumbles before it walks, and a writer creates work that is nothing short of embarrassing from time to time.  Those awkward attempts are truly holy.  Growth is often painful.
  • The ego distracts you with self-image and acclaim-driven fantasies. Creation is involved with collaboration:  I’ve never fantasized about being the world-renown revolutionary voice of my generation, beloved by most and respected by all, while writing.  I have certainly entertained these notions while not.   It’s easy for me to stick a label on myself that says “writer” and to think well of myself for it (another thing the ego likes…categorization and labels).  It’s much harder to write something and expose it to the big bad world with all its judging eyes.  It’s much harder to ask someone for help or feedback, to put myself in a class where I’m confronted with the fact that I don’t know everything, and it’s much harder to put myself in a community of fellow writers (online or otherwise).  Growth involves connecting with others.
  • The ego projects itself into the future while delegating tasks. Creation takes place in the present moment:  Like the above, but pertaining more to the idea of time use.  The ego is a forecaster and treats any endeavor with its analysis.

“Success looks like this.” it says. It tells you that you need to write for a certain amount of time in order to call it a day.  It sets the standard for accomplishment, and discouragement follows when your work doesn’t conform to that standard.  Ritualization and rigidity can be good and is almost certainly better than not writing at all.  The problem occurs when the ego takes over completely.  Discouragement, the ego’s attempt to come back to the status quo of things, results.  Creation happens in the only part of time that actually exists for us – the present moment.  The fingers go to work, and the work comes alive while the mind struggles to keep up. Finally, there is one crucial difference between the ego and creation.

  • The ego involves thinking. Creation involves action.  One of them leads to sitting on a couch.  The other leads to bring something completely new into the world.

You see, the ego is concerned with safety and predictability.  The writer’s responsibility is to come to terms with the fact that what they create has life of its own.  It cannot be restrained by the ego.  Your ego, however powerful it may be, is not some overlord in your psyche that has total control of your life.  You are ultimately the deciding factor in your actions and your writing.  If you want to write, then get in front of the pen and paper or the keyboard and write.  The paper and the real world is where the writer’s journey unfolds, not in the mind.


Author’s Bio:

don I’m an aspiring writer who has a full-time day job in healthcare.  I turned a self-destructive and drug-addicted life around almost three years ago, and with that, had a revelation of sorts that I was put on the planet to write.  I’m in the editing stages of my first book and have started a blog at http://donaldhuffman.com on the journey of writing seriously and professionally. Donald’s Links:


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12 comments

  1. “Creation is often painful…” That is the truth. I find that when I am creating and the words won’t come in a way that I want the to it is so frustrating. However, I have also found that if I don’t give up, the flow often shows up in the middle and takes over. That’s the sweet spot…where thinking turns into action! Thanks for this post, and welcome to Two Drops. Congratulations on your recovery. Writing from the depths will not only benefit your own journey, it will benefit the rest of us when you connect to your inner writer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Michelle! I like to think of the first few frustrating and sometimes fruitless minutes of writing as the period where my muse is waiting to see if I’m serious about writing or not!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Don. You have a provided an insightful view of the ego at work. An analysis of how and why ego derails creativity and the constancy of its mission.
    I am absolutely a proponent of your view and analysis!
    For years I battled with ego “mind chatter” – my mind commanding me instead of me controlling it. Decades elapsed before I became aware of what was occurring. It is indeed a deeply enlightening moment. Then, of course, the work begins, but constant awareness provides the progress to reclaim command of the vessel.
    Your experience with this subject is genuine, therefore your conclusions are worthy, highly regarded.
    Congratulations on your recovery, Don, and welcome to the communiy! Thanks for this well written, valuable and practical post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much Slug for the thoughtful response and kind words! I too find and continue to find that awareness is the vital piece of the puzzle that tells us where to put the other pieces. I think writers struggle with ego/perfectionism/self-criticism precisely because we have an endeavor that takes us to the limits of the ego and what it’s abilities are. What do you think?

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      • Don…I think there exists an absolute barrier, totally personal, for each writer. On either side are the drafts that others might see, or are intentionally commercial, versus writing that is intentionally private forever. Most writers won’t admit that fact but I certainly do. I write about many things that I don’t want anyone else to see – ever.
        Writing for and about one’s self is often confessional, cathartic, and when genuinely true, awareness arises from those words. If one completely surrenders to an emotion, plunges to a depth that convulses the soul, it is guaranteed that every word of ego camouflaging, both pro and con, is stripped away during that time. It is ones unadorned, naked soul. The ego absolutely abhors this process! As an example – there is literally no end to ways of expressing anger with words…scream, cuss, threaten, berate, punch a face, etc, etc. It can be done with every emotion that exists!
        As for writers struggling with ego/perfectionism/self-criticism I’m a bit embarassed (ego!) to admit that I suffer little with those three words because my old-age world is so different from the majority of writers. The reason – I have no agenda, nor illusions of fame or a best-seller, I choose what to write about, when, and how. Money isn’t a consideration (there’s never enough, is there?) and, it’s none of my business what others think of me. During my adult life, pre old age, I was the image of ego/perfectionism/self-criticism – it was heavy baggage to lug around!
        I will admit to being stupendously surprised by the gracious and encouraging acceptance of submissions at Two Drops. Somewhere in my mind, it has sparked a valid reason to continue learning the writing craft – which was previously nothing more than a self-satisfying hobby.
        Aww, shucks – comments are supposed to be short – I’ll probably be in trouble over this one, Don! Don’t want my ego bruised, ya know! Keep on keepin’ on young man – you’re doing a fine job!

        Liked by 2 people

        • Wow. Thank you for the thoughtful response and the warm encouragement. It was a meditative experience to read your reply and thank you for sharing! I hope to get to the freedom that you speak of

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  3. Thank you for this inspiring piece Don! I enjoyed reading your article and have to say I also firmly believe that our ego has a big role on stopping us to be vulnerable. It’s being vulnerable that helps us to move forward and explore the next step. Good luck on your writing Journey!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the encouragement Shabnam! I agree and i think the vulnerability aspect I think is what makes us brave as writers. Its scary to write and thats why it’s a blessed journey!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello Don! First off welcome to Two Drops of ink community.

    I can certainly relate to your writing. As individuals, we do tend to gravitate towards easy. We are afraid to leave the comfort zone. For me, getting into the creative zone, requires huge effort on my part to get to work. I feel it is a discipline we all have to work at constantly. It’s like a muscle. If you don’t keep it stimulated it grows weak. I feel that is true with most things.
    We also have the ability to self sabotage ourselves into doubt, resulting in never trying. One of your statements referred to collaboration. I agree with you completely. Encouraging and helping one another is most definitely a needed ingredient for inspiration and the will to move forward.
    With that said, you found a great place to collaborate here. I appreciate the effort you put into your post, Don. Thank you, John

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for the feedback John! When you talk about the comfort zone I started thinking about networking and collaborating with others. Its not easy for me to approach a person and put myself out there. I’m an introvert and writing is the challenge that pushes me out of my comfort zone. I think writing is hard for different reasons to different people but I think we can all agree that it pushes us to where life is found.

      Liked by 1 person

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