Writer’s ego and perfectionism


“You’re a writer, surely you can find a better adjective.”

That came from my wife last week. I probably could have come up with a better adjective. What I couldn’t do though, and this still bothers me for some reason, was identify with that label.


To me, writer, implies a level of professionalism and accomplishment, at least as far my own work is concerned. It’s not that I object to anyone who can identify themselves with that label. In fact, I wish I could bring myself to say: Hello, I’m a writer. I’m just not there yet. I don’t have anything in a state where I could justify it.

I feel like this is a symptom of “writer’s ego.” (No, I can’t call myself a writer, but I totally have one of these.) It’s the same thing that makes me kick and scream like a spoiled child when I get feedback explaining that something isn’t working. It’s also the same thing driving me on -that little voice saying “this project is a serious, professional piece of work, and it will launch my professional writing career.”

Normally, the screaming child part of me eventually shuts up so that I can fix what’s wrong, and the part of me fantasizing about being a professional writer becomes humble so I can focus on improvement. However, this identification thing is causing a problem. On one hand, who cares about being labeled a writer, if you enjoy doing it, then it doesn’t matter what you’re called. Well, I suppose I do care, and I care because a failure to associate with the label is a symptom of not taking myself seriously.

I may be a bit of a slob, but when it comes to crafting, I’m a perfectionist. When I set out to do something, it is NOT half-assed. My wife will attest to this character flaw. Case in point:

Electric bass

Homemade electric bass

Except for the neck, and electronics, I designed and made this. It is my second attempt at making a musical instrument, the first was from a kit. I am not a luthier, nor am I a particularly fine woodworker, but this thing sounds pimp, and I am still completely unsatisfied with it. That said, I’m not going to go into the odd details I hate that no one will ever notice.

I spend at least an hour a night writing, and many more hours discussing plot, characters, setting, and so on with my wife and anyone else who’s foolish enough to listen. On those days I commute to work, much of that drive is spent thinking about my story. Not only that, when I get to a bit of story containing details I’m unfamiliar with, I start researching. On one occasion, I was at the table with a bit of string and my map. “What the hell are you doing there?” My wife asked. It was pretty obvious to me. I was doing a rough measurement of a road to make sure the the distances and travel times I had were plausible.

So, with all of that effort, shouldn’t I be taking myself seriously? After all, I want others to. If I write my book and publish it, it’ll be hard to convince folks it’s a good read, if I haven’t even convinced myself. Just one more thing to work on I suppose.

photo credit for header photo: ego via photopin (license)


A daily fight

Just a single thought tonight. It seems like every day, I trip over something else about writing a novel I hadn’t considered, or somehow sheds light on a problem in a way I couldn’t exactly see before. Sometimes this is nothing but helpful, and I have one of those aha moments where it makes sense and I’m ready to get my hands dirty. Other times however, the new insight feels like a punch to the gut. It has brought to light a problem so big, it requires structural changes to the story or a tremendous amount of thought I hadn’t expected.

I suppose as my head spins from one such revelation, today’s take away has been that writing a novel is not a matter of just stringing together events, people, and description. Sure, these are all part of it, but it’s not the sort of thing that can just be dashed out with the expectation of having something anyone would invest the time to read. I could go on about this, but not tonight. I’m tired. Perhaps more later.

Trying to figure out plausibility

Last week I asked a friend to look at a couple of chapters with the idea he would rip into them and tell me how bad they were. For various and sundry reasons that didn’t really happen, which is fine. However, what did come out of it was the general comment that there are plausibility problems. Nothing super major. I mean I am writing a fantasy story. There should be a lot of stuff that just can’t be. No, the issue was more specific to the human side of stuff. Mostly, how people are reacting/not reacting to certain circumstances. What really made the nature of the comment clear to me was the statement, Your main character is supposed to have been a soldier, but he’s not really acting like it. I brought the topic up with my wife when I got home, and also shared some thoughts on where the story is going next. Once again, the plausibility issue came up with rather vigorous discussion. This one makes me feel bad too, because I spend a lot of my time trying to make sure things are plausible. It really doesn’t feel good to have messed up an aspect I put a lot of energy into.

Okay, so it’s clear I’ve got a problem, what do I do? Turns out that’s not so easy. A few of the plausibility issues are embedded deeply in the detail. I’ve already gone through most of this stuff a few dozen times, and so I think it’s going to be tough for me to work out whether or not a particular bit of description or a reaction by a character works, or if it’s trash. I think I can do it, but I expect I’ll miss a lot the first time around, unfortunately that’s not really a solution, more of an approach.

The one place where my reviewer pointed out a problem he characterized as just being in the details will actually require a pretty thorough re-write to bring a measure of plausibility to it. Why? well, what he pointed out was just a symptom of a much larger problem, which I did see clearly once it was pointed out. It wasn’t just the details that were problematic, it was the entire situation that didn’t make any sense, which is why the details weren’t right. How could they be? I don’t think this is the only place I’ve got this problem, once I go through it looking for it, I expect most of my chapters will need rather a lot more work.

Another issue I’ve got with plausibility is a lot broader. While the plot is generally sound, I think, there are key elements that are pinned on pretty weak justification or on events that would not have ended in the manner I have described or imagined. It’s written so that those inconsistencies really don’t make themselves known until pretty late in the story.

My solution? I don’t have one, at least not a good one. I spent the weekend brooding on it (and going to a whiskey tasting), and can’t think of a way to really address some of these larger issues without re-writing significant chunks of the story to make the key plot points sit on top of much more plausible circumstances. Maybe that is what needs to happen, but really, how many times can I do that before I have to admit defeat and throw in the towel? I can’t say I’ve hit that point yet, but if the first reaction to a fantasy novel is that it’s not believable, that’s a major problem. If your reader is already expecting implausible stuff, yet it’s not believable. Damn, though I did ask for it, and I got it.