In reading Heather Sellers’s book, Page After Page, I’ve found several passages that are uplifting and give direction to a creative, though she centers on writing, life. In my previous post, I agreed with Sellers in that to have writing, or creating, a part of our life, one way to make it important is to treat it like a lover. And just like any relationship, embracing the creative life is, “. . . a ton of work. It’s exhausting. . . It’s a way of life, and you have to really look hard inside yourself.” This directive touches on several ideas. First, as I’ve written a few times before, we write from where we are. That includes touching on, even exposing to light, that shadow part of ourselves. How do we get there? How do we know where to start? With our parents.
“Some of us raise writers. Some of us marry them. Some of us teach writers. Some of us decide not to become writers. It is the ones in the goofy gap of fear I’m worried about. The non-writing writers. The fear-bound.” We are in this last group if we, as we create, think to ourself, “What will my mother say if she reads this?” I’ve asked that question. When it pops up and I’m scribbling on my page, I shove it aside. Why? Because my words suddenly change. Instead of an expletive when a character is caught in a dead-end ally and there are three thugs with a pipe, a chain, and a knife at the entrance, having my character say, “Well, shoot. I can’t believe I got myself into this. Perhaps these three gentlemen would be interested in a conversation about letting me go. Maybe I can prove they have the wrong guy.” Nope. I would lose my readers. “Fake”, “never happen”, “stupid character” would be just a few, edited, versions of what people would say. Fear would change the story, the character, to something “safe” that my parents could read. But a long time ago, I decided to not be “safe”. To forego the fear, and write what needed to be written, regardless of any pending criticism from my parents.
Sellers continues with, “Writers are people who are comfortable with intense contradictions. . . Becoming a writer means learning how to write, every day, without missing a day. In order to do this, writers have to gently embrace ambivalence, anxiety, not-sure-ness. . . Writers are people who tolerate a high level of anxiety. We have a talent for holding up well under tension. Maybe even thriving on it. Maybe one reason a lot of writers come from chaotic households is that we are the kind of people who can survive chaos. Some writers don’t come from chaotic families. But they are also able to withstand intense sustained anxiety.” This anxiety comes from one source, disguised as many. What would our parents think? What if no one likes what I write? Will my best friend find herself in the heroin of my novel, and will she disagree with certain characteristics? What if I my book receives bad reviews? What if it garners rave reviews? What if I never get an agent or editor? What if I do? For some, like myself, chaos and not-sure-ness have always been a way of life. Embracing this as part of making creativity the center of my life doesn’t scare me. And this is where all of this anxiety originates. Fear.
“Try looking at doubt and anxiety in a whole different way. . . Learning how to get underneath or above or beside judgment when you are writing, and then to call in the exact right judicial authority when it’s time to expand or contract your piece of writing—this is art!” This is the only time when I allow, even invite, a little of that doubt and fear to read over what I’ve written, to pretend that I am my parents who are reading my work. “Make doubt your ally. Tell your anxiety you appreciate him.” Because if we make them our enemy, we’ll only be fighting ourself, we won’t create, and fear will win.
How to use fear to your advantage? The old saying of, “If you can’t beat them, join them,” might apply. Sellers suggests, “Fear is the self’s armor against anxiety. We want to stay with fear a little bit more. Delay the armoring process. Fear is useful. Anxiety is numbing. It’s a drug. Drugs keep us from our creations. What you want to do is ask yourself: What are you afraid of? Work on spending more time with fear, delaying, if only for a micromoment, anxiety, fear’s ugly cloak.” Answering the questions above, the ones that so often drive fear and doubt and anxiety, are one of many ways to dispel fear’s imagined talons wrapping around our hearts. There are a few things that will happen if we spend time with fear. One, we’ll shed a little light on our shadowselves. This isn’t bad. It’s good. This is where the juice is. This is where the words, the colors, the flavors, the notes come to light, and life. Two, if we spend some time with our fear, our courage grows. With that growth, comes risk taking. And it is only with risk that our greatest work can be born.
Another way to move around, past, or through fear is to create consistently. “I show up every day (it has taken me years of practice, but I am pretty good now) in my writing room because I want to demonstrate to myself that I am capable of commitment, of practice. The less I think about it, the less I angst about it. . . I wanted to be a writer. . . You can do this. Anyone can. You just have to wake up, writing.” And isn’t this what everything takes? Practice? Which comes after commitment, and this comes after heeding the call of the Muse to create something, anything, that wasn’t there before. Something that comes from me, from you. And just because we decide to bring something into form, it is unique, it is an honor, it takes courage, and it can be, should we choose it to be, the center of our life. “Any day you are writing anything at all, even one sentence, is a cause for celebration. It’s that hard, what we are trying to do. Keep that in mind, and also the equally true thing—if I can do this, you can.” As with anything that we try, that we think we can do, that we even want desperately to do, “I wade through the bad days, knowing the good days will come back. If I just stay with it. The other thing we know about the muse: She visits writers who are at their desk, writing.”
Listen. Become an acquaintance of fear. Commit, which means to show up every day. That snowballs into courage to write from where we are, from where we come from. Embrace the creative life, and maybe, finally, the chaos will begin to make sense. Do you have a technique to keep anxiety from stalling your creativity? Share it in the comments section! If you want to see the results of my dance with anxiety and doubt, visit my website www.myjoyenterprises.com