Reading through all the phenomenal reponses to last week’s prompt – the poetry, photography, the heartfelt reflections – I found myself more and more amazed by the creative thinking you all expressed. One after the other, you amazed me with the level of awareness you demonstrated, and the varied focal points that direct your creative lives. On a couple of occasions, I found myself so excited by what I was reading I jumped up from the computer and sat down at the piano, feeling a need to release some of that energy in a physical way that only pounding out a Beethoven piano sonata can do.
But, then it hit me. Suddenly I was paralyzed, stopped dead in my tracks across the keyboard. What the heck am I doing? I thought in a panic. Who am I to ask people – especially people as talented and creative as all of you are – to talk about their writing? After all, what do I – a humble housewife and office worker, who dabbles in wordplay – have to say about the writing process that could be of value to anyone?
Self-doubt assailed me.
Writer’s are notorious for doubting themselves, aren’t they? Certainly we’re all familiar with stories of the depressed writer, slugging gin and downing pills in an effort to stimlulate the muse. Unlike other creative work, the fruits of a writer’s labor aren’t immediately visible. We work away at putting words on paper, and in the end what do we have to show for it? Anyone can put words on paper, we think. What’s so special about that? Where do we get off thinking our words are better than those of the average joe sitting on the bar stool next to us? What’s so special about our vision of the world, our ideas, our little storylines?
Natalie Goldberg calls this voice “The Editor,” and says “the more clearly you know it, the better you can ignore it.” Write down what that Editor keeps saying, Goldberg advises, so you recognize those thoughts for what they are, simply “prattle in the background” of your mind, and can dismiss them as easily as you would the “distant sound of white laundry flapping in the wind.” Unless you do, it will take over your creative thoughts and smother them as effectively as a wet blanket does a flame. Instead, Goldberg continues, “have a sense of tenderness and determination toward your writing, a sense of humor and deep patience that you are doing the right thing.” (Writing Down the Bones)
Dorothea Brande also recommends a sense of tenderness toward your writing, a warm acceptance of your ability and the importance of putting words on the page. “Don’t follow yourself around nagging and suggesting and compaining,” she scolds. “Hold your own good work up to yourself as a standard…keep a friendly, critical eye on your progress.” (On Becoming A Writer)
I like the idea of being “tender” toward my writing, of “keeping a friendly eye on my progress.” Ultimately, I have to believe that my “vision of the world” has meaning, even if for no one other than myself, that the process of putting my thoughts and emotions on paper in the form of stories and essays is a worthwhile practice, and one that benefits my mind and spirit. Like the practice of yoga, where we come with “a willful determination but without pressure to be perfect,” the practice of writing helps us work toward expressing our minds and hearts in a beautiful and meaningful way.
Goldberg quotes Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist master, as saying: “We must continue to open in the face of tremendous opporistion. No one is encouraging us to open and still we must peel away the layers of the heart.”
As we Write On Wendesdays, perhaps we can encourage each other to open our hearts and trust our own voices as we progress in this practice of writing.
How about you? Are you ever assailed with self doubt about your writing ability, or about the reasons for writing at all? Do you “follow yourself around nagging and suggesting and complaining”? What are some of the negative things your Editor tells you? What could your Editor say to be more encouraging? How do you encourage yourself to keep practicing the craft of writing?