People talk about how hard it is to write, to paint, to create. They’ll talk about the time commitment, having to learn the craft, struggling with prose or dialog, character development or plot arc.
Sure all of that external stuff is hard.
But you know what makes it really hard? Yourself. Not just the voice of the inner critic, but days when you know you need to plant your butt and work, but discouragement is a weight on your hands, imprisoning them. Or the evil little Comparison Gnome that whispers you’ll never be as good as…(add anyone you want here). Or the stuffy accountant voice that points out the money you spend vs. the money that isn’t coming in. Or any of the thousands of ways we tell ourselves we can’t. Or shouldn’t.
Today is a discouragement day. I have the afternoon to write, but instead I’m thinking of the things wrong with the current work in progress. Things that on any other given day I know I can fix during editing, but that today, weigh me down and whisper ‘is it really worth it?’
Recently, I came across this quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estés.
‘Often the creative life is slowed or stopped because something in the psyche has a very low opinion of us, and we are down there groveling at its feet instead of bopping it over the head and running for freedom. In many cases what is required to aright the situation is that we take ourselves, our ideas, our art, for more seriously than we have before. Due to wide breaks in matrilineal (and patrilineal) succor over many generations, this business of valuing one’s creative life – that is, valuing the utterly original, beauteous, and artful ideas and works which issue from the wildish soul – has become a perennial issue for women.’
Easily said, right? Take our creativity more seriously. Value our creativity more. Ms. Estés goes on to talk about the inner wild woman needing to not act nice about protecting her soulful life but to draw the line and push that inner critic back where it belongs.
That all sounds wonderful when you’re reading it, but come on, what exactly does that mean? How exactly do you do that? This gives us theory but no nuts and bolts.
I think the nuts and bolts come through experience dealing with the external pressures on our lives that tell us our writing, or our creativity, aren’t as important as going to work, paying bills, cleaning the house, or whatever our brain tells us are our responsibilities.
After all, responsibility is more important than being selfish and doing something like writing a story or painting a picture that will never pay the bills. Right?
But over time, I think we all slowly learn that we need something that gives our souls some peace, even if it’s skipping work once in a while to go fishing, or take a walk in the woods, or see a play.
And those are the nuts and bolts we slowly learn. The tiny little things that allow us to mute the inner ‘predator’ as Ms. Estés calls it. That voice of discouragement, or criticism, or cruelty.
Today, with my weight of discouragement keeping me from writing, what tools will I pull out to bury it?
I’ll go for that walk in the woods. I’ll make some tea. I’ll read for a bit. Maybe I’ll look for some new music for inspiration. I’ll allow myself to be discouraged, to think everything I’m writing stinks, because today, it all does stink. I’ll allow it to stink for a while, and then I’ll email my fellow-writer and tell her why I think it all sucks. She’ll come back with what she’s struggling with in her current project, and we’ll laugh, problem-solve, figure out what honestly does reek and need to be deleted, and what just needs to be polished a bit to shine again.
So my nuts and bolts: acknowledging the voice that’s preying on creativity (today, discouragement), recognizing it’s a temporary thing and will pass, knowing stepping away for a bit will help, and then sharing with someone who knows exactly what it feels like and who will keep me from doing something stupid like deleting the whole book. Or from doing something dramatic like declaring (with hand to brow) ‘I’ll never write again!’.
All tools that have taken me a lot of time, trial, and error to learn how to use. To learn what works.
Today the discouragement is heavy. Maybe in a few hours it will have eased. Maybe in a few days. Either way, it will eventually fade.
For a while anyway.
Because creativity is hard, and we’re our own worst enemies.