Tuesday, September 2, 2008

check all egos at the door...

So, about that resolution to get out of my way? Needs a little work.

The writer's ego is a tricky thing, I think. On one hand, a writer is completely self-centered. The first obligation of service is to her/himself. John Lennon is a great example of this. When approached by a fan who was beyond star-struck, Lennon told the kid to stop taking the songs so seriously. "I wrote them for me, not for you." On the other hand, the writer is selfless the moment her/his work is published and is exposed for all to see. And yet, it's an extension of "Look at me." Art for art's sake is one thing, but dammit, I also want to make money. I want you to like what I write. I want you to like me.

A writer has to learn balance, not only in terms of time, but also ego and self-service. At what point does self-promotion become badgering? We need to promote ourselves and manage our careers because no one else will, but we also need to learn how to be part of a community that does more than look out for number one. There is nothing I like more than to be part of a community of writers that look out for each other. It's my pleasure and honor to assist another writer, and I've had several opportunities to do so.

I got a lesson in this last night. And even as I argued my case in favor of self-promotion (I know I'm being vague here and leaving out a few key details that would put this conversation in a much clearer context, but I'm not ready to disclose yet -- projects are in the works), I heard myself saying, "Stop trying to be right, shut up, and get out of your own way." But my ego wouldn't listen. "I can handle this," she said, but in the end felt rather selfish and ashamed of it.

Make no mistake: there is nothing wrong w/ looking out for one's own interest. We need to. But experience has told me time and again that what I give comes back to me multiplied. However, sometimes I get scared. Sometimes I fear I will fall into obscurity. And when my car is in the shop and my credit card balance, the one I worked so hard to reduce, is rapidly rising, I let dollars and cents rule my judgment. That's ego backed into a corner.

But what really does me in is my flawed perfectionism and the fear of being perceived as disingenuous. I have to move beyond the ego and remember who I really am. It's more than a writer, teacher, promoter, sophist, or any other label I bestow upon myself.
Much, much more.


Stacey Cochran said...

This is a great post, Elisa. About a year or two ago (as a writer), I consciously started thinking and saying, "Put the audience first."

No one gives a damn about my book. They're there largely for their own interests.

I think I learned this by doing a few bookstore events and learning that no one would come if I made the event about my book.

On the other hand, if I made the event about something that would help the audience, people would come (sometimes in very large numbers).

Putting the audience first has become something of a guiding principle for me. I try to keep this focus in mind. The group's needs are more important than my own.

Same thing in my family, too. My wife and my son's well being is more important than my own. I don't always keep this focus in mind, and I slip up all the time. But I'm trying (sometimes failingly) to consciously put other people's needs and interests above my own.

Sometimes they sync up. My needs and interests meet the audience's needs and interests. Those are the moments I've been trying to make happen more and more often lately.

Eventually, after many years of doing this, artists, writers, actors, etc., can rise to a level of popular success where an audience comes to enjoy their work purely for what it is and not for what they can get out of it.

The Purple Panda said...

It's a tough lesson that comes back to bite you in the ass sometimes, doesn't it!

The toughest part for me is swallowing my pride (again, an ego issue). Sometimes I have to suck it up and admit I was wrong, especially when I knew better all along. I've taught such principles, dammit! In a spiritual context, too!

But it's validating to know that I'm not the only one who has slipped up, and that it's a process of learning the balance like everything else.

Right on, Stacey!

MitMoi said...

Admit to being wrong? Outside of a quiet talk with the big guy??? (ahahhahahah)

Yeah, ego is difficult to ditch.

I haven't hit it in my writing - but then, not such a large body of work for this to be an issue. But other areas of my professional life?? A complete struggle.