Words from the otherworld: For when you feel like giving up writing.
This blog came out of two things firstly; lately I have noticed a lot of negativity in the particular corner of the literary world I inhabit. Secondly, this blog also comes from a conversation with a friend the other day who was feeling down about her writing. She didn’t feel like writing, she didn’t feel like her story was important, she didn’t feel like she was good enough to write it, she didn’t feel like anyone would want to read her work and that she was writing more than ‘living’. As such, it may sound a tad evangelical.
Self doubt and exhaustion are two constant and major issues for writers and so I just wanted to write a little bit about them and how I deal with them.
First off, it is okay, in fact it is normal to love writing but sometimes not feel like doing it. All forms of art have a love/hate relationship. The distance from where you are to where you want to be can feel so great you get completely overwhelmed. But sometimes it is necessary to push through with your writing, for example when you have a deadline. If you are serious about becoming a good writer then there are times it will feel like hard work instead of a fun hobby. Basically, you have to suck it up and push through. That may sound harsh but I know, I KNOW how heartbreaking it can be to work on a story or a poem and feel like the spark has gone. But trust me, unless you work on that piece of writing or artwork your muse doesn’t get a chance to show up and help and that spark won’t get a chance to fire again.
However, there are also times when it is important to put the pen down. You can’t constantly drink from the well of creativity and never expect to fill it up. Ways in which you fill the creative well are through meditation, reading, being in nature, dreaming, watching films, catching up with friends, general down time etc.
The two important points here are that in order to be a writer you need to know yourself – know when to push through and know when to pause and fill the well. Figuring out this balance is tricky and a constant process but definitely necessary to maintain a healthy relationship with your writing.
Secondly, your story? Your words? Your characters? Your plots? They came to you and only you. I am agnostic, I don’t know if there is some big all seeing all divine force motivating us and laying down a blueprint of our lives. However, I do know art is something ‘special’ something ‘spiritual’. Art is a powerful force for transformation and transcendence. Self-doubt and negativity erode the energy and esteem of every single artist, they are our biggest enemy – they are the biggest enemy of art. You have to remember that most of the great artists in history died poor and without recognition. You need to learn to be your own cheer squad, be clear on why you write, reach out for support from your writing buddies and remind yourself of why art is so important in the world – fill that well! And remember, that regardless of your skill level, those stories and words will NEVER be told unless you tell them, because they didn’t come for anyone else. Those stories and words came only to you and will only come from you. You could try and give your ideas to someone else but it wouldn’t be the same as what is inside your head, heart and soul. Now, like I said, I don’t know about the divine but to me, art seems like a force of the divine if there is one. So, if someone does criticize you in a way that isn’t constructive – just trust the art. The art came through for you, you did the best you could and that, THAT is always better than doing nothing at all. And you know what? Those critics that tear you down without being constructive are often coming from a place of envy and lack because they are not brave enough to pick up the pen themselves.
We all wish we could be better writers and do our stories, poems, scripts, paintings etc., the full justice they deserve. Now, I hear some of you asking Are you saying we DON’T give them the justice they deserve?! No. We ALWAYS do our stories justice but we will always feel like we could have done better. That is the way of art, the curse of art and the blessing of art. It is an ongoing apprenticeship. If we DIDN’T look back at some of the artworks, written or otherwise, and cringe there would be something seriously wrong with us because with every piece of art we do, we improve therefore when we look back, we see what we could have done better AND THAT IS A GOOD THING. Art is a physical manifestation and map of our growth. And that can be hard because it is on display for the whole world to see. The world bares witness to our mishaps and our epiphanies. But the fact of the matter is that the stories, words, plots etc., have come to you now. You may come to the conclusion that now is not the time to write that story because you want to hone your craft a bit more before taking on that particular project. I know I have ideas for novels filed away until I feel up to the challenge. The point is that even knowing that about myself, knowing I am not ready to write that level of complexity provides me with goals and inspiration as to how and what I want to develop towards. So, even if you start writing something and decide to put it away until you feel more proficient that is not a bad thing, that is NOT failure rather, it shows discernment. It shows you are a GOOD writer who wants to get even better. But at the end of the day, those stories are your babies and if they are dear to your heart, and you want to tell them? Well do it, because no one else every will. As Toni Morrison says “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
As for audience, I believe strongly in writing for your self. It is prudent to think about who might read your work. However, all those websites and courses that tell you how to identify your readers or target market – it is still only ever a guess. Anyone who works in advertising will tell you that it is a huge guess (unless you have the resources behind you to do a huge amount of market research which artists generally don’t). Take Harry Potter for example; do you think they would have said to J. K. Rowling at the beginning that her books would be read by just as many if not more adults than children? The bottom line is, you just don’t know whose heart your writing is going to touch. No one knows where our stories are coming from or where they are going but what we all know is that a great book or pieces of art or film has the ability to change the world and if you have the creative spirit? Don’t ask yourself what right do you have to make art, as yourself what right do have NOT to make art?
That brings me to my last point. My friend felt like her work wasn’t important. It was just about beauty and love and stuff… Yeah, those pesky, unimportant things that philosophers have been trying to get us to value and embody all throughout history. There is a quote from Dead Poets Society I like to use in this instance.
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
If I could just convince every artist and every budding artist to keep going, keep sharing, keep pushing through that sense of crushing doubt, worthlessness and fear. Ask for help if you need, but keep making art? I KNOW this world would be a better place.
As Nick Cave would say:
“You’ve got to just
Keep on pushing
Keep on pushing
Push the sky away
And if your friends think
That you should do it different
And if they think
That you should do it the same
You’ve got to just
Keep on pushing
Keep on pushing
Push the sky away”