Hayden's Ferry Review


Deflating the Emerging Writer's Ego

My name is Nils. I'm an undergraduate English literature major at Arizona State University. And I have a problem. Well, I had a problem. With my ego. I've learned a lot from writing classes over the past few years, and one thing I learned that doesn't get talked about in class very much is the writer's ego. Having an ego sucks, but it doesn’t seem like it until it’s deflated. Nearing my BA, I look back at the arrogant writer I was during my freshman year and how much it hindered my writing. I remember the second story I had in a fiction workshop, the professor holding it at the corner like a crusty sock and saying: “If I were an editor for a review, I would have stopped reading this after the first paragraph.”

I was also the one to find all the flaws in a colleague’s story and magnify them without pinpointing strengths. I was the 19-year-old who was completely full of crap. But then, after my manuscripts were held to my face and punched in with critiques, I began to listen. Now, I am published.

These were the basic steps I trudged through:

➢    Lowered Financial Expectations
I’m not a celebrity, nor do I plan to be one. Writing doesn’t make the author that much money, I found that out quick. I’m thankful to be published where I am now, but I never made one red cent from my writing. I workshop with writers who are in their 80’s and haven’t gotten rich, but still write for the passion.

➢    Submitted Work and Received Rejections
“Submit, submit, submit” is what my first creative writing professor would say. I got my first rejection and couldn’t help but feel like that manuscript had failed, but I pressed on: wrote more stories, read more work from new authors, and networked with other writers. Submitting is an ongoing process that takes patience to navigate.

➢    Dropped the Zombies Obsession
Yes, I admit that I wanted to write screenplays for B movies. I thought it would be easy and a quick foot-in-the-door to a promising career where I would have a good income and all my ex-girlfriends would swoon over my fame. I had my head stuck in Hollywood and not in literary journals. Reading more literary fiction, I saw its true aesthetic and found that I liked it better than writing screenplays. I felt more emotion coming from them.

➢    Accepted That There was Always Someone in the Workshop that Was Better Than Me At Something
To me, a workshop works best when everyone brings something they’re particularly good at to the table. I attend a workshop hoping to learn from others.

➢    Attended Different Workshops
After taking workshop classes at the community college, I started to attend workshops at Denny’s and Village Inns with complete strangers. I learned so much from strangers and found that their unbiased approach to my work made them the best critics.

Having an ego is natural. Even animals have egos, as I must deal with my cat’s ego everyday. It's like a horrific beach ball that doesn't stop inflating and takes up all the space in a workshop classroom until someone pulls the valve plug. Now that my ego is deflated, I feel that I have more space for improvement in my writing.
Nils Dahlgren