Please welcome Judy Mollen Walters to Writer Unboxed. Seventeen years ago, after her stint as an editor in nonfiction book publishing, Judy became a stay-at-home mother to her two daughters. Her first book, Child of Mine, came out in March 2013; her second book, The Opposite of Normal, came out in February of this year.
Of her post today, Judy says, “I’ve always been convinced that as writers we share a unique kind of fragile ego, regardless of where we are in our writing careers—trying to get an agent or publisher, first book being published, hanging onto the midlist, or even when we are blockbuster best sellers. But I was never able to pinpoint how I knew we were all more alike than different until I experienced first hand the struggling writer’s ego in two very high-profile, successful authors. As writers, we should all be a little kinder to each other, and acknowledge that first we are human. I’m hoping this article will ignite a conversation among authors about this topic and that we can all come together and support each other.”
Do You Suffer From Fragile Writer Ego?
A while back, I was in the audience at an author event. The author was a New York Times bestselling commercial writer, a wonderful speaker—witty and full of fun publishing facts. I was having a great time until she made a snarky comment about EL James, the author of the Fifty Shades series.
A few months later, I was back at the same venue listening to another NYT bestselling author, this time of a more literary style of fiction. I was having a great time, hearing her explain the research behind her book, until she snarked on that commercial fiction writer I’d heard a few months before!
I thought about the two experiences for a while, kind of disgusted, and then realized that they were linked by more than just coincidence. Both of these authors, big names, very successful, must have what I’ve coined the fragile writer ego. Now that I’d seen it exhibited by two big name authors, I realize that no matter how successful, every writer must have it.
I know I have the fragile writer ego, but I figured that was pretty normal for a not so seasoned author just bringing her first or second book out. I spent a long time writing novels that were not good enough to publish and almost as much time finding a literary agent. When I finally published my debut, I worried about how it would be received. Was it really good enough to publish? Would people really think it was good enough to see the light of day?
Even after it got good—some great—reviews, and people said positive things, I was still pretty sure it might not be that good. Maybe they were just saying those things to be nice. They couldn’t actually like it, could they?
As writers, we have complicated egos. We can feel confident in other areas of our lives: maybe we know we’re parenting well, or we have other jobs we get kudos for, or we can make a mean mac and cheese or are the Grillmaster of the neighborhood. But when it comes to our writing, we’re just.not.that.sure.
We need continued reminding that we’re doing it right. For some, this is the validation of an agent or an editor, or strong sales. For others, it’s the sweet emails from readers who say they couldn’t put the book down, or the royalty check—no matter how small—that we acknowledge was earned on our words alone. And I suppose that even after you’ve “made it,” even after you’ve reached bestseller status or people clamor to have you speak at their events, you continue to have that pesky fragility. You still wonder: Is this book—my first or third or tenth—is it really, truly good enough? And sometimes you let it slip—like these authors did, the way they did—that you are really insecure, like everyone else.
I think the commercial author might have felt insecure that an unknown writer like EL James, with no writing background, no agent, no anything, really, could come in and do what she did with her series whereas the commercial author worked and clamored and fought her way up. And I think the literary author might have the feeling that the commercial author was more well-known, selling more books than she was, and that might have made her feel insecure.
What these experiences did was make me feel that I’m not so different than any other writer. The big successes and those just starting out. The literary and the commercial. The women and the men. We all just want recognition that we’re on the right path–that our writing is meaningful to someone else, however we define meaningful.
So to all authors I say: Be kind to yourselves. Keep going. Ignore your writer fragile ego as best you can. Find people to validate you. Find happiness in the small moments when the writing seems on target. And believe.
In what ways are you a fragile author? What do you do to help ignore the feelings of fragility when they start clamoring for your attention?