The story you tell yourself, as a writer.

On the other side of finishing The Artist’s Way, here’s something else I can see: writers are down on themselves.

A lot.

I mean, I was.  And I can see it in a lot of other people.  But now I feel like skipping, I’m so not-down on myself.  Not flying, because I have stuff to do, but, you know, walking around with a little extra spring to my step.

1) We think we suck at writing.  Even when other people look at our writing, or listen to us talk about writing, and say that we must know a lot.

2) We think we’ll never find success as writers.  Even when other people are praising our writing (and not just to be nice), or in the face of publication (“sales will suck, I’ll never get in the markets I really want to get into”) or winning prizes (“so?”).

3) When something good does happen to us as writers, we undermine it.  We freak out, stop sleeping, get sick, and believe that any minor road bumps are the real forerunners of The End.

4) We rip the holy shit out of other writers who do have success, because of minor flaws, or because their work doesn’t fit our tastes (“they sold out”).

So here’s how the ripples of going through the book are changing me:

Look, these are not your thoughts.  These are other people’s thoughts.  These are…society’s thoughts.  I mean, take racism.  Do you know racism as a baby?  No.  You only learn racism from other people; it’s like a virus that you pick up.  It’s not a naturally-occuring part of your brain.

1) Student doctors, student lawyers, student managers don’t go, “I suck at being a _____.”  No.  They’re students.  Before you’re a professional, you’re a student.  To think that you suck at writing because you’re a student at writing…really?  It’s irrational, and it’s non-creative disciplines don’t have to deal with it.  Why is that?

2) When other people praise doctors for saving lives, do doctors go, “I’ll never be a doctor.”  No.  When people praise your writing and they’re not trying to be nice, you did your @#$%^&* job.  You engaged them: you did your job, you did your job, you did your job.  You can’t say, “I’ll never do the job” at the exact moment that people are saying thanks for doing your job!

3) Is it really you that doesn’t want to succeed?  Or is it that you’ve been told, over and over and over, that creative work is a waste of time…and that you’re afraid that you actually are good at it, and that you might have to waste your time for the rest of your life? Because that’s all you’re good at?  Because it’s not as good as being a doctor?  Or a janitor?  Or a horse trainer?  Or a teacher?  Or a politician?  Why are you judging your profession so negatively?

4) Is the important part of a creative work…the bad parts?  Is it better to make fun of something you don’t like?  Is it okay to think that people who are a little too enthusiastic about some creative work…are crazy?  Are there barriers between you liking any kind of story?  Girls are told that horror movies are too scary for them.  So are kids.  Boys are told that romantic comedies are something that you get dragged to on date night, and you have to secretly roll your eyes all the way through them.  Upper-class, well-educated people are supposed to read literature.  Boys aren’t supposed to read…they’re supposed to play video games (despite the fact that all kinds of parents and teachers are trying their best to change this).  Society pushes our buttons about what kinds of creative work we’re supposed to like or not like.  And it pushes our buttons to tell us that being creative, and enjoying creativity, need to take a back seat to devoting yourself to your non-creative job, supporting (or raising) your family, and learning how to do same.

Be a robot.  Make more robots.

(Yes, They Live!)

In an era when nobody wants to hear anybody else’s opinion, and they certainly don’t want to risk changing their minds, creative works are encouraged to be insular and divisive.  Creative workers are encouraged…to stay within boundaries.  Or quit.  But the function of creative workers is to broaden, to share perspectives, to heal, to reveal hypocracy, to illuminate mercy and love, to mock power…

Are you a crappy writer? Could be.  But these thoughts will hold you back from becoming a non-crappy writer, so…ditch them.*

You’re not a doctor.  That’s okay.  You’re there to make sure that doctors remember that they’re doing it for their patients, not the insurance companies (thanks, Julie).  You’re there to make sure lawyers remember what it’s like to defend the innocent instead of chasing dollars (just picked up a copy of The Lincoln Lawyer, finally).  You’re there to remind people of…all the lessons that you’ve lived, that people forget about.

Think about the creative work you love.**

That’s your job.  Yes, it’s possible to learn your job.  It isn’t genius; it’s learning your job.  The way to not suck at writing is to learn your job, not to give up.  The way to succeed at writing is to learn your job, not to dismiss yourself as not really having any talent.  The way to enjoy your success as a writer is to think about what other writers have given you, and know they’ve felt as attacked by success as you have.  The way to nurture creativity in yourself is not to rip other creative people down, but to see what they did well, even if it doesn’t push your personal creative buttons…so you can do your job better.

I’ve done everything all wrong. And I’ll probably do it again, because we are just battered by people telling us how worthless we are–and the worst ones are the other creative people who buy into this crap.  “Don’t share your process.”  “Act like a professional and keep your failures to yourself.”  “Enjoy it while you can.”  “It’s just part of the business.”

Bullshit.  Here’s me, not giving up.  Not putting up, not shutting up.

Nyaaa.

You don’t have to, either.

*No, it’s not that easy.  I recommend The Artists’s Way, but do what works for you.

**”Anybody want a peanut?”

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7 Comments

  1. This. Yes. This.

  2. Wonderful! Your words give me courage-like a Ninja Writer!! I’ve started The Artist’s Way a few times but never finished it…I just can’t get into the assignments, but I still like the book. Clearly, I need to give it another shot!

  3. De

    Thanks, guys 🙂

  4. De

    Robin – I just turned off the rational part of my brain. Rational brain fought this the whole time.

    “Look, rational brain, this is my creative therapy, so I get to be irrational and crazy for as long as it takes to get through this morning’s assignment, okay? You DO get the brain back after that.”

  5. MB

    Hm. You seem to keep saying what I need to hear.

  6. Liz

    Whoa. I was in the middle of writing a post about my horrible self-doubt, hit the save button, and came over here. Crazy!

    I think #1 resonated the most with me: Student doctors, student lawyers, student managers don’t go, “I suck at being a _____.” I had such an AHA! moment when I read that.

    Maybe I will publish that post now.

    @De and Robin: That’s what I’ve been doing. “Just go with it. It won’t hurt you. It hasn’t steered you wrong yet, right? So just freakin’ do it.”

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