In a previous article, I set down my greatest fear as a writer: sheer egoism. In this article, I want to unpack what I’ve been learning about killing the ego. That language may seem a touch violent, but I’m afraid it’s the best language to use. We don’t want to quiet the ego, or pacify it. We want to kill it, and to keep killing it.
Before we explore killing a writer’s ego, we have know what we’re talking about, especially since there are many writers out there who think that having an ego is inevitable and even useful at times.
The ego is merely the self. To understand what this “self” is, I go to my steadfast source of authority and wisdom: Scripture. Have a look at Ephesians 4:17-24:
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Notice here that there are two selves: the old self and the new self. When we talk about a writer’s ego, we’re talking about the old self, a self that Paul describes as (brace yourself for an unflattering list): futile, darkened, alienated from God, ignorant, hard-hearted, callous, sensual, greedy, and impure. Ouch! In every sense of the word, your old self is small. It is small in relation to the goodness of God; small in relation to sound understanding; small in relation to sympathy; small in relation to generosity. Small. Small. Small.
If that’s hard to swallow, it should be. The old self doesn’t go away quietly, and I don’t know if there are people anywhere that want to be told repeatedly (and with sharp language) that they’re small. But according to Paul, that’s the plain truth. So, if writers want to kill their ego, and keep killing it, they’ll need to magnify their smallness. And not just once, but on a routine basis.
The positive side is that there’s a new self, and every Christian writer needs to claim that. That new self is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” The likeness of God is essentially the likeness of Christ, to whose image we are being shaped day by day (Rom. 8:29). What does it mean to be shaped to the image of Christ as a writer? Here are three ideas.
- Make your writing about serving others. This means that you’ll need to be able to answer a few questions whenever you finish writing something: Whom are serving with this post/article/book? How are you serving them? Why are you serving them? Christ knew whom he came to save (sinners), how he came to save them (to die in their place and rise again), and why he came to save them (profound love). You should be able to answer those questions for anything you write. At least, the new self, created in the image of God, should be able to.
- Recognize that writing is a signpost for sanctification. What I mean is that we often write not as we are, but as we wish we were. On the page, I’m a better Christian, a better theologian, a better husband, a better father, a better son. I struggle to catch up with the man on the page. The writing of the new self keeps us moving forward, pressing us to take on the shape that we’ve sketched through the prose.
- Always be ready to give yourself up. Writing is simultaneously about putting your name out into the world, and drawing it back in when you receive attention. The world will tell you there’s nothing wrong with a little attention. But I usually find that even a little attention inflates the ego and brings the old self back to life. Make up your mind as a writer to admit where your ideas and inspiration came from (i.e., from the Spirit).
Killing the ego is no small task. It requires self-discipline and constant vigilance. We have no ability to do it on our own. Thank God, he does it for us. As we prayerfully rely on the power of the Spirit to shape us to Christ’s image, we are bound to notice change. The new self will be far more focused on true righteousness and holiness, which primarily belongs to Christ, and secondarily belongs to those who are united to him. Remember that . . . especially when you encounter success.