Thursday, April 09, 2009

Creativity - rejection, self doubt and bullet proof vests

Still ploughing my way through the Artist’s Way - I'm a bit behind on my reading and tasks this week, but am totally addicted to my trusty morning pages (so therapeutic, I can’t recommend them enough - I’m sure if more people did them the world would be a notably less psychotic place than it is). But as I’ve felt my creative channel gradually opening up, rather like the buds that are upon the trees right now - gradually getting ready to release their spring bloom, with just a little more warmth and sunlight - I’ve been thinking about getting back to writing. It’s been a couple of years believe it or not since I declared my novel ‘finito’, even though I’ve gone back to re-draft and re-write it a few times since. But it’s been too long since I let myself properly write....and I miss it. It’s like a part of myself has been left to wither on the vine. But now spring has arrived, I’m ready to write again - simply because it’s part of my nature.

I realise now that part of my creative block is down to the ruthless and absolutely cruel way I torture myself with layers upon layer of merciless self doubt and self flagellation. Whereas sometimes I feel quite content with my writing ability, more often than not my ‘inner critic’ (he’s a total bastard, I have to say - if you knew this guy as a person, safe to say you’d despise him) convinces me that I’m actually rather pants...that my style is weak, disjointed and devoid of inspiration. My evidence? Well, I compare myself to the greatest literary geniuses ever to live. Of course I’m going to fall short when I compare my writing to that of William Shakespeare. And I do - I did so just the other day. I read a quote from Shakespeare and marvelled at the sheer beauty with which he managed to take words and use them to create such heart-stopping works of art. To be honest, I don’t always know exactly what he’s talking about - I remember reading the part of Romeo in high school English class and struggling with three page monologues in which I had absolutely no idea WHAT I was saying...but even then I was astonished at the richness and inspired beauty of his words, whatever the hell they meant. Next to him, I’m little more than a four year old learning how to spell his own name - and getting half the letters the wrong way round. But then the same could be said for many contemporary authors, I guess. Poetic flourish isn’t something that’s necessarily appreciated in today’s literature. In fact, it’s probably frowned upon. So forget Shakespeare, all I need to do is take my ideas and make them into readable prose. It doesn’t have to be genius...holding myself to such impossibly high standards is just creative suicide.

So, the inner critic has to be silenced! His input is only needed when proofreading and determining whether a sentence sounds right or not (and even then he tends to turn constructive criticism into crippling wretchedness: “see, you can’t even structure a sentence - you’re a complete waste of space, why kid yourself?”). I guess everyone has this inner critic: it’s not limited to artistic types. And I believe it’s part of the egoic structure. It’s deeply rooted in fear as opposed to the expansiveness and openness of our true nature, the essential Self. I also believe it’s a defence mechanism, related to our ego’s inherent fear of rejection. Once upon a time, questioning why I was always so down on myself I realised that it was based upon the dubious notion that “if I beat myself up, it would save other people having to do it”. In other words, in order to avoid the feared rejection of other people, I first rejected myself. That’s a totally self-destructive pathology, but it’s one I’m sure many are familiar with. Recognise it...and root it out. Just being aware of it and realising how daft it is is probably enough....But you have to be AWARE and conscious of it; slip back into unconscious mode and this kind of programming will quickly kick into gear and rule your life again.

I can see how this whole rejection fear has crippled my creativity. It’s the reason I rarely do anything with my paintings; the moment they're done I just tend to stuff them into a drawer. That way, I figure, no one can criticise or judge them. Unfortunately this defeats the purpose of art; art is to be shared. My objective in writing, painting, making music is to bring an inner inspiration - that which is formless - into form. I don’t just create for the sake it it and I don’t even create art just to express emotion any more (I used to - and still have some rather bleak, ugly paintings and horrendously depressing poems created during depressive times)...there is a time and place for that, but ultimately such work doesn't add anything particularly worthwhile to the world. I have a higher vision now. I create art that I feel has a certain quality, a vibration, a level of consciousness (hard to put into words, actually) that I feel the world needs. I endeavour to bring the beauty of the formless into form. It is my intention that my art will bring more light, more inspiration, more beauty into a world that desperately needs it. In my opinion there’s too much ugly, soulless, ego-derived art out there in every medium: music, literature, visual art, films, TV. Art that is hollow, soulless and not created with a particularly high level of consciousness or intent simply can’t have a very positive affect on those that ‘consume’ it: a world filled with hollow, soulless art creates a world filled with hollow, soulless, people.

I’m rediscovering why my contribution is important. Why my book and my weird spacy paintings and the album I’ve finally finished creating after 4 years of work have relevance. There’s still the tendency to stuff them away in a drawer and forget about them, but that’s a disservice. I just realised that I’m running the risk of sounding grandiose (and a bit mental in fact) with this post, but it’s just I’m coming to the realisation that my work has relevance, and deserves to be shared - and it’s maybe even important that I do so. I’m not so deluded as to think that my book can change the world, but if it can uplift just one person’s thinking, or open them to thinking about life in a slightly different way then it’s worth it getting it out there.

I just don’t quite know how. I hate, hate HATE sending submissions out to agents. Rejection slips hurt. Each time they burn and blister, regardless of how much you rationalise it. So now I have a negative association with sending out sample chapters: in the same way that if you burn yourself by touching a hot plate once, you have a deep almost bodily aversion to ever touching it again. I now despise sending out submissions to agents. Each time it’s like, as Tolkien said when he sent out Lord of the Rings to various publishers “I have exposed my heart to be shot at”. There must be an easier way. Or maybe I’ve just got to put on a bullet proof vest and keep persevering....


Weston Elliott said...

Oh, yes - every writer understands this one! You are ssoooo not alone. That inner critic will get you, boy, when you give it an inch!

Wish I had an insta-cure for you, but I don't. I think we all reach the point where we have to decide if we believe in what we're doing enough to go through the pain. This is what they really mean when they say we suffer for our art!

Rory said...

Thanks for the comment - it's comforting at least to know I'm not alone when it comes to that inner critic. It's a nasty piece of work!! Appreciate the advice - it really does come down to a choice as to whether its worth the pain to continue. I feel it feel the fear and do it anyway I guess :)

Weston Elliott said...

Oh, I did think of something that worked well for me - might give it a try if the mood takes you.

I had a good friend who wanted to read my first novel, but the only chance she had was on a 12 hour drive between California and here - which obviously she couldn't do, at least not very safely. So she talked me into reading it out loud on the trip. I lost most of my voice by the time I got home, but I also lost my inhibitions about hearing and reading my writing out loud. A 12 hour marathon isn't exactly what I'd suggest - but maybe start taking excerpt or short pieces to a local open mic night. Nobody can critique you at a venue like that - it might be just the thing to give you practice and confidence.

Rory said...

Thanks for the suggestion! Sounds like it might actually be something worthwhile trying...When I was editing and redrafting my novel, I would go through it reading it aloud; sometimes when you hear it out loud rather than just silently read it in your mind you get a better sense for how it flows or whether or not it sounds right. It's certainly something I would do again...reading to others slightly scary. Might be good to start with supportive friends as you did to begin with. Thanks for suggesting it :)