How To Write

I’m a neurotic writer. Ever since high school, when I’d melt down in a panic over essays about Antigone or Lord of the Flies, I’ve struggled with the written word. My sentences do not flow the way I want them to.  Nails get bitten. Hair is pulled out. The ego takes over and asks: Why do you even bother when there are so many better writers out there?

This is when it’s time to remember The Artists’s Way, Julia Cameron’s brilliant guide to creativity. No doubt I’ve blogged about it before. In her book, she talks about the concept of ‘shadow artists,’ people who would be artists if they’d only recognize themselves as such:

As a rule of thumb, shadow artists judge themselves harshly, beating themselves for years over the fact that they have not acted on their dreams. This cruelty only reinforces their status as shadow artists.

In large part, Cameron argues, to be an artist means declaring yourself one. Vincent Van Gogh said “If you hear a voice within you say ‘I cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” The same goes for writing. Not to be flip, but to be a writer, we simply have to show up to the computer and suffer the blank page until we decide to fill it with words.

If you’re someone who wants to write, then I promise: if my neurotic brain can pull it off, so can you. Just sit down and confront the page.

No judgments. Let yourself go. See what happens.

I’ve also benefited from books on writing and creativity. Because I’m always struggling, I’m always revisiting these books for encouragement:

Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott
On Writing, Steven King
The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
Stein on Writing, Sol Stein
Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro
An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery, Janna Malamud Smith
Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon
The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life, Twyla Tharp

 

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The Cost of Perfectionism

I spent two hours at work tonight writing one single tweet. 140 characters. One hundred and twenty minutes. This is not because I am inefficient or ridiculous. I’m actually kind of obsessed with productivity (more on my Evernote systems soon) and have figured out how to get shit done really efficiently when it comes to work and life. But I have an obsessive personality that insists on trying to perfect something even when that something can’t be done perfectly.

This blog, too often ignored, offers me some solace from that way of life because I don’t feel that I’ll be personally judged for my words. It’s horrifying to know that my issue, at its core, is really my fear not of failure, but of being looked down on by others. Instead of striving for greatness and risking failure, I settle for mediocrity.

How many of us settle like this? It’s what Seth Godin writes about in The Icarus Deception. We too often fly too low to the sea as opposed to too close to the sun. We struggle with creativity and making art because that means we’re putting ourselves on the line.

I know that I need to let go of these fears. To spell check the tweet and hit send and move on with my life.