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.
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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