If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy. If you write for men - you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while. If you write for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted that you will wish that you were dead.
- Thomas Merton
There are many stories of artists who have been destroyed by addiction to alcohol or other drugs. There is another kind of addiction that rarely gets mentioned, though it destroys a far greater number of artists, usually - but not always - without killing them.
The addiction to ego.
I know people of real talent who can never move into the space of genuine creativity because they can’t get past themselves (or their selves). They create their work with the audience in mind, or, like one friend of mine, they begin a piece of work and then freeze, afraid that no one will like it, that people will think less of them because of it.
It’s simultaneously comical and depressing to see artists spending hours, days, months and years worrying about their art, instead of simply going ahead and creating the art.
To create anything worthwhile, you have to get rid of you. You don’t matter; it’s the art that matters. Nothing of value can be produced by the ego. Even when the art is autobiographical - especially when the art is autobiographical - it’s useless to come from a place of ego.
Quivering insecurity is no different than swaggering arrogance - both are ego trips. Both are about the artist, not the art.
In the real act of creation (whether what you’re creating is a piece of writing, a piece of music, visual art or a performance), the ego dissolves. The self falls away like a heavy coat you don’t need to wear.
You have to be fearless, but not arrogant. Fearlessness sees all danger and pain, and refuses to run away or look away. Arrogance is blind and stupid, and dooms you to failure, because it is deluded and, ultimately, believes only in failure.