The ego gets a bad wrap. Most people associate it with arrogance, self-centeredness, and myriad other bad personality traits, but the reality is much different. Everyone has an ego – an innate sense of self-esteem or importance. I could argue that the ego is the foundation upon which self-preservation rests, the backbone of our primordial “fight or flight” instincts. In other words the ego keeps us going in the face of threats to our existence. On a less dramatic scale, the ego gives us the stamina to move forward despite feedback that suggests we’re wasting our time. That could be good or bad depending on the circumstances, but for a writer it is a necessary condition of employment.
Like many matters of art, writing is judged based on personal tastes, which are formed through a complex mix of experience and emotion throughout life. If I put two people in front of a classical painting in the middle of the Louvre and ask their opinion of the piece, I’ll likely get two starkly different opinions. Some paintings, like DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, are universally loved and admired (However, I bet I could find many people who hate it), but many others are subjected to the partial perspectives of the viewer or reader as it may be. While some opinions may carry the weight of an “expert,” no opinion on the matter of taste in art is necessarily more valid than another, but opinions are as varied as the people who provide them.
To take this example a bit further, I present my wife and me, both of whom are avid readers but have very different tastes in what is considered good in terms of books. We have enjoyed some books together, but my wife didn’t enjoy one of my most favorite books, Shantaram. Despite the fact that we share many similar likes and dislikes, we’re often on opposite sides of the reader spectrum. I prefer books in the literary genre with expansive, flowing prose, but many readers would find these stories dull and slow-moving. This doesn’t mean one genre is better than another; it’s a matter of taste, which is as varied as those who read the stories.
Understanding this reality is important for a writer. It’s no accident that many writers (or artists, in general) throughout history have been prone to neurotic or odd behavior (Think: Van Gogh, Dali, etc.). The slings and arrows of opinions can be quite difficult to absorb even if you understand this fact of life. What garners praise from one reader may prompt kvetching from another. It’s hard to know what to make of it all. Does every opinion warrant a change? Does every piece of feedback that is negative mean that the writer has failed?
To some extent, yes. The point of writing is to communicate effectively whether for pleasure or informative purposes. If the reader experiences little or no pleasure or is not informed, then the writer has failed, at least with that particular reader, but any writer who seeks to assuage every reader’s sense of satisfaction will never write because such a a feat is impossible. Even great classics of literature have their detractors. Such is the case for every other writer.
Given the flurry of opinion, it’s hard to stay focused. Writer’s have to pick and choose what feedback requires action, and that’s not always straightforward. I do know that no one becomes a writer to boost their ego. If anything, the ego is the only thing that keeps us going if only because it’s a flickering flame in a rainstorm that just happens to stay lit long enough until the next story is finished.