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B&N Week 135: The Creative Ego

| July 23, 2013

BoltsNutsFeatured-ego

We’re looking at another wonderful Tuesday! We actually had a day of rain here. Not just a storm that blew through, either. It started out as a thunderstorm, but then it settled into a nice, long, soaking rain. Water fell from the sky for about five hours. It was wonderful. Cooled it off nicely, too.

That’s my weather, though, and not really what I wanted to talk about. What I want to talk about this week is the creative ego. It’s this thing that not only has us creating, but thinking that our creations are ripe for consumption by others. It can also easily go out of control. The young creative ego is a delicate thing, and needs to be honed and shaped over time, through trial and tribulation. The problem is that most creatives don’t believe they need this.

I’m not going to bore you with my history again. However, as I look back on it, and the things that I’ve done and gone through creatively, I see that I’ve done a lot of growing, and have had a lot of help from my friends [even if it didn’t seem like help at the time]. While I have only the smallest amount of shame for the actions of my younger self, I don’t look back on it as a bad time. It was something that was needed for my personal growth.

We all have dreams, and it is the creative ego that makes us strive to make those come true. It just needs to be tempered.

A great way to temper the creative ego is to work on someone else’s creation. Artists do this all the time, but writers? Writers aren’t so lucky. In the indies, writers are often the prime movers, and as such, they are telling their stories as best they can. Writers don’t often hire another writer to work on a story for them. It happens on occasion, but not very often. And why should they?

We all know that a full-time writer can handle three or four books a month. Maybe even five, if they’re really good, focused, and organized. So if a writer can handle that many books, why do they need someone else to tell their stories for them? It’s counter-intuitive, right?

But with so many writers out there looking for work, why couldn’t a writer extend themselves a bit? Let’s say that they have an idea, but they don’t have time to explore it. Maybe it’s a smaller idea, so they don’t want to invest the time, but they still want to see it on the shelves. What could this busy writer do?

Well, the first thing the writer could do is write down the premise, plot, some random ideas of where the story could go, and then put the story away against some time in the future when they could get back to it. That’s what most of us would do.

But what about this alternative: the writer farms the work out. Instead of just putting the idea in a folder against the future, they could hire a writer to do up the idea. It could be billed as “Kletus Jerkovitch Presents”, and then the name of the title. The creator hires another writer and lets them work the title at the direction of the creator, who really only needs to supervise to make sure the story is going in the direction they want it to. The credits would read “Created by Kletus Jerkovitch, Written By Intrepid Freelancer.”

How would this train the creative ego? [As you can see, I’m totally skipping the logistics of the creation aspects of this. Too many permutations to go through.] This would get the creative ego ready for working with others, which while we believe it is, very often, the opposite is true. When we first start, we very often don’t believe we need help. And when we are shown that we do, we very often lash out at those who help us. It isn’t pretty, but there it is.

When we accept the help, it’s the first step in getting to the place that we want to be. In accepting the help, we’re acknowledging that we’re not perfect, and that first step is crucial. It ultimately accelerates the process of enabling us to be able to work with others. This can be a long process, because we want to tell the stories the way we want, while acknowledging the fact that we need help, because our vision may not be as clear as we want it to be. [This, folks, is generally where an editor is helpful.]

As long as we remember the comics is a collaborative medium, things should go smoothly. Collaboration means that there is some give and take. You have to work to meet in the middle. You can’t just treat your other collaborators like they’re there for your amusement. That isn’t how it works. When things don’t go smoothly, it is often a due to a difference in creative egos. One is too big for the other.

[This also has little-to-nothing to do with money. Money, whether it is the lack of it, or one party seems to have more of it than the other, has broken many a partnership, be it personal or professional. This isn’t what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about egos that are too big, and thus, break the collaboration. We often call these “creative differences,” and sometimes, it’s even true. A lot of the time, though, one person believes they’re right, to the detriment of the collaboration.]

The best way to be when you’re first starting out is to be humble. This is difficult, because this means we’re in a learning mode, and we want to be getting gigs with Marvel/DC. However, being [truly] humble will get you where you want to be much faster than being egotistical about your prowess. It will signal to others that you can be worked with, that they will be heard, and that they can even “win” at times.

Ever notice that there are two kinds of creators that you hear about? The fact that they’re talented is a given. But the two types of creators you hear about are either really nice, or they’re pretty arrogant. These are the paths that having a large talent will take you. There really won’t be a third path.

If you’ve shaped the creative ego correctly, you can have the best of both worlds. You can be humble, and can have flashes of arrogance that no one would blame you for. But do you also know what happens when you shape the creative ego correctly?

You get fans.

Of course, you also have to have some talent, but that can be honed and increased over time, as you shape your creative ego. But the gaining of fans means you’re doing something right. When your creative ego is sufficient, and you’ve gotten enough quality work under your belt, something magical will happen.

People will want to meet you. Not only will they want to meet you, they’ll pay attention to what you say, and they may even hope to try to follow in your footsteps. And do you know what that is? That’s humbling.

I’ve had some creators follow what it is I’m saying: some have changed screen names to their real names on message boards, or have written to tell me that they’ve adopted one thing or another of mine. Some, I’ve seen on the internet at various message boards or writing their own articles, and I see a lot of what I’ve said coming through, down to my particular phrasing. And all of this humbles me. To me, it means that I’m doing things generally right. Flashes of arrogance from me? Quite possibly, but I’m also genuinely humbled whenever someone tells me that I’ve affected them in some way. How can you not be? And really, I still have a long way to go.

But it all starts with being able to hone your creative ego. You have to train it to accept criticism, to understand that you are not always going to be right, and that there has to be room for others and their ideas. That takes time and effort. But done correctly, you’ll be in a position where people will want to work with you. They’ll seek you out, and propose things to collaborate on. And let me tell you, whether you accept or decline the invitation is immaterial—being sought out and asked is a wonderful feeling. It’s like being asked to the prom.

Homework: self-assessment time! How do you react to criticism? Positive or negative? Are you seeking out criticism in order to feel good, or are you looking to grow as a creator? Can you humble yourself to accept negative criticism in the face of what you “know”? Can you work within the framework that someone else has created, instead of trying to figure out your own way with someone else’s work? [Which is what you’d have to do anyway in working with established, corporate-owned characters.] Can you accept that you could be wrong, even if someone is less-than-kind when telling you so, accepting the message despite the messenger?

That’s it. See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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