On Writing

A Response Letter…

To Any Writer Struggling With Ego…

Have you ever listened to a kid tell a story? They can just go on and on making stuff up and they sure don’t need an ego to tell a story.

And writing a story is just a learned skill, not something that takes an ego.

As I have said in a number of workshops and lectures, I am convinced all of my stories suck. And I honestly don’t care because even if I write a story that doesn’t work, who cares? I did the best that I could and to me that is all that matters. If I had ego in thinking every story needed to be perfect, I would care and it would stop me like a cold dead fish.

I do the best I can, that’s all I can do.

All any of us can do.

I keep learning and keep doing the best I can.

Does it take an ego to clean a house or drive a bus or do computer work for a company? Do any of the fine people who do those jobs worry that they don’t have enough ego to do them before they start each day?

Writing is no different than any of those. We just sit alone in a room and make stuff up.

But at the same time, we must defend ourselves against attacks, and most attacks come from the inside, not the outside. So we must learn to never question our work. Just do it as best we can do at that moment and put it out and see if readers buy it.

Now realize I have believed all my work sucks for forty years, yet over 23 million people now have bought my books and more every day around the world. If I took that number in, I would be too “important” to ever write again. But if I believed there was no point because anything I tried would just suck, I would never write again.

So the balance is just creating a space in our own heads. Nothing is important really, but everything should be done the best we can do.

Be a window cleaner. Make the window so clean no one can see the glass and take pride in that and then move on to the next window.

Writing is no different.

We should all take pride in the work, do the best we can, keep learning, and then release and move on.


  • Lisa Nixon Richard

    Well, I needed this post. I am writing a story that sucks! I am plugging along with a fun idea that feels flat. I want to just trash the story, but I won’t. I will now do the best I can and let others decide. Thanks for the slap on the back of the head!

    • J. D. Brink

      I have certainly been there, and will be again! There was one story I wrote a few years ago that I really liked the idea on, but every time I sat down to write it was like pulling teeth. And by the time I was done, I figured the story had to suck because it was so hard to write.
      But then when I reread it myself, it turned out better than I thought. And it ended up an honorable mention in the WotF contest, so that was very reassuring.
      I love Dean’s window analogy: write it, make it as squeaky clean as you can (without spending days, weeks, months just polishing one damn window–imagine doing that!), and then move on the do the next one. I’ve become so much more productive since I’ve (mostly) gotten over killing myself trying to make each and every project “perfect” and “special.” I’ve got too much writing to do for that.

      • Lisa Nixon Richard

        Thank you for the encouragement, J.D. And Mark, I will try to do that this fall.


      Don’t forget to cycle back, Lisa. Cycling back is where I found myself adding in more cool stuff. And do yourself a HUGE favor and take Dean’s Edit Yourself online workshop. You will learn SO much about your writing and maybe a little about yourself, too!

  • Kristi N.

    After reading this post this morning, I came across two Mario Andretti quotes that I had saved on my computer three years ago when I started building up a backlist:

    \”If you wait, all that happens is you get older.\”

    \”If everything seems under control, you\’re just not going fast enough.\”

    I\’ve learned from taking workshops and lectures from you that I can build confidence in my skill set, but it is up to the readers to judge the story on its merits. Finish, learn from my missteps and write another story. And as Babe Ruth said, \”You just can\’t beat the person who never gives up.\”

  • Danielle

    Dean’s “points” system of publishing is also helpful in overcoming ego, giving your brain a different focus. Can’t be too busy judging the work if the goal is to get to 60 points in 5 years! Gotta keep writing!