Creative Ego (and why you need to break up with it)

I heard the phrase “Creative Ego” when listening to a Lavendaire podcast (I cannot recommend this girl highly enough- her podcasts can be found here, and the specific episode I was listening to here), but I actually knew what the Creative Ego was long beforehand. It was one of the first things I was taught to abandon during my degree.

As budding creative writers myself and my friends were told that we would be sharing our work with each other on a regular basis. Every seminar. It was okay if we didn’t want to for the first couple of weeks while we got comfortable, but after that sharing would be the norm. The goal of this? To prevent us from becoming precious about our own work, basically.

Here are some cold hard truths about creative writing : you will always find someone out there that you feel is better than you. Not everyone will like your writing. Sometimes you will struggle with your writing. Sometime you will love your writing. Much as you are proud of your writing, your writing is not you. If it doesn’t go well at some point, then suck it up and move on. Sharing got us into the mind-set of: I can improve this, the first draft is never perfect, I’ll keep going. The alternative was people throwing tantrums because their Creative Ego would be telling them that they had been criticised and either a) everyone else was wrong, or b) they were a shit writer and should never write again. Some people I knew were given creative criticism, and couldn’t handle it. The walls went up, and they decided that they hated writing. This could be described as giving in to the Creative Ego.

Now, the Creative “Ego” might make it sound like these people were simply egotistical pricks. Wrong. The “Ego” can also be, I feel, someone who is a perfectionist. Someone who wants to succeed, and can feel a bit insure when they think they aren’t succeeding. I’ve given into my ego at many times in my life, and in many areas of my life. Doesn’t make me a bad person, or an egotistical prick. It just meant I had to work on embracing failures when they came along. Many of us can take criticism on pieces of work like an essay quite easily, but when it comes to an extended project or piece of creative writing, our ego can get in the way of us using this criticism and using it to our advantage, because this writing matters to us. It is important that we are proud of this writing, and that others also enjoy reading it. Guess how you achieve that? You take a deep breath, take the criticism and the compliments (because by sharing you do get those too), and improve your work continually. You scrap your ego.

I feel immensely privileged to have had my creative ego shattered pretty early on. It allowed me to abandon some pieces of work or edit and improve it, without being defensive or upset. If your passion is writing then that’s great. Sometimes you will get emotional over it, sometimes you will have your reasons for sincerely rejecting a suggestion- but just don’t be precious about your work: accept criticism and suggestions. Test them out before rejecting them. Even if you end up not liking the result, you tried something new. If you hold onto your creative ego it can mean you never even get to try new things, because you end up afraid of criticism. By my university having a policy where you had to sit and listen to suggestions from everyone, take some notes, and only then could you respond/explain/question suggestions, we got used to criticism. We ended up more open-minded, having broken up with our creative egos. Try it, and see what happens to your writing.