Keeping my Ego as a Black Writer is the Best Advice I’ve Ever Received

Steven Underwood
May 16 · 4 min read
Photo by Steven Van on Unsplash

Wherever it was said it was unprofesssional to position your confidence before the interest of people who do not care if you can get out of bed in the morning should be shredded, along with the book, the pen and the author’s hand who was goofy enough to write it.

I’ve spoken to many writers in my career as a twitter savant and an artist in a digital, clout-based industry like culture writing. One tip, by the genre-defying Clarkisha Kent, was to cling to my Ego as not only a defense, but as a justification for the expectations I hold for any contractor who even breathes in my direction for my art. As a Black writer — it’s all I can maintain whether I am paid for my work or not. This Ego is what I will hold on to even when the well of career success runs completely dry.

Ego is what is being explored in all artforms. Some English majors pretending to like Shakespeare right now will reflect upon this as “the Human Condition” — that analysis of what it means to be a person, to have personhood and, most importantly, be aware of your rapidly approaching demise. Yet, we’ve so many professionals standing above us and demanding we tailor this natural, human understanding o what and who we are.

Freelancing is particularly emotional because of this. As a writer, we are expected to face rejection countless times with a strong smile and a stiff upper lip. It’s a feeling completely alien from the criticism and critique of workshop, where ego is expected to be subject to worldview of those surrounding you. A rejection letter feels as if the talents you’ve accumulated are not good enough — that your world will never appreciate the effort you put into a thing of substance. When your financial security depends on this, it also accumulates such a painful stress that gathers and builds upon itself. Multiply this by twenty different publications and platforms and over the span of six agonizing months of peanut butter sandwiches and water, you’re still expected to take it with a smile.

To do this without the expectation of ego is cruel and inhumane.

Ego is the protective shell surrounding all of your endeavors as a creative, especially when it is earned. In today’s digital era, we are surrounded by those whose work have been supported and reiterated as captivating and important to them. The work executing the thought that went into it is commendable, because — as a writing tutor — I’ve seen how few people can get their clear and established ideas onto paper, let alone published into the cold, judgmental gaze of the internet.

Personally, my ego is the only reason I continue to write. I’ve written at large about different topics that have faced constant rejection from every larger and smaller publication, but have garnered life-changing reactions from the fan-base enabled by public platforms like those found here, on MEDIUM and on my personal Blog, Blaqueword. My work has merit and talent behind it whether another has interests within it and my ego is not in that I expect to be published or admired for it by those with money, but that it deserves a level of respect from myself and a level of respect from people who expect to consume it.

In a different era, this Ego would be unprofessional. In that era, writers served the interests of platforms and publications who controlled the audience. However, the internet is as beautiful as it is atrocious and is the grand equalizer. Content creation is a vigorous industry and requires a constant feed of work by, you guessed it, writers. To treat ego as an “unprofessional marker” in a world where you do, in fact, need us is strange. Today’s industry is as much about clout as it is about skill set. Clout does not decide talent or the dedication put in to prove that talent.

Or maybe that’s the Capricorn in me talking. Actually, no. Art of any kind is incredibly difficult to do right. Everything within our field is circumstantial and experimental; however, so many of us have accumulated an understanding of what works for us — the tools to utilize for specific behaviors and interpretations and the techniques that breed majesty from these mechanations.

What are actually the risks of retaining your Ego in this industry? Some Editors feels it is unearned in so many people; some may not guarantee you roles or work according to that parameter. These places fucking suck and will largely try to take advantage of you — they can suck your gigantic dick (and if you don’t have a dick, they can envision one — the sentiment is the same).

As a Black Artist, there is seldom that we can do without our ego. The bravado is essential to avoid the world that will tell you to expect and want less for what you can provide — and only you can provide.

Have your Ego: it has almost zero risk to anything other than making the insecure unsafe in the roles they’re taking up.