Loyalty to craft, creative delusion regarding a work’s sparkling potential, and fear of failure is the grand trifecta of creative anxiety.
Loyalty to craft and creative delusions lead to good work but they can also lead to perfectionism. Creative delusion is critical in protecting our development and ambition yet it can also isolate us. And the ubiquitous fear of failure can lead to paralysis, procrastination, and catastrophic thinking.
And as I reflect on my creative journey last week, I can see all of them fraying at my confidence, stamina, and motivation. They are also the reasons why sitting down to write this article for you meant having no idea where to begin. So I’ll begin by describing the problems and set-backs that led to a state of creative fray. Keep in mind, creative fray is not a lack of productivity; rather, it’s the great tease of having a plan, the torture of partial and inadequate execution, and the pain of losing your (insert 4-letter word here).
Let’s look at a few of the contestants, shall we?
Technical Demons & Other Developed World Problems
If you read this blog regularly, you might remember that I schedule poetry reading time each week. But last week I wasn’t able to read because I had computer problems and much of the material lives in my inbox. (And while I’m at it, let me give a big SHOUT-OUT to the Evernote webclipper which kept crashing my browser).
What up you mirage of efficiency contained in a vile, infernal add-on!
It also meant not creating an image for The Visual Poetry Project since my passages come from my weekly readings. I know, I could have just opened a book & found something random but my heart’s not in it like that. I’ve tried that approach and I always feel the end image reflects my lack of engagement.
And I think we need more real engagement in this world, don’t you?
Procrastination & the Anxiety of Influence
Oh, and I procrastinated on enrolling in Katherine Soniat’s upcoming poetry course, even though I’ve had my eye on that for months so no spaces left there. Looks like I’m in for another four months of writing poetry drafts alone at home. I know you’re probably not into poetry so let me explain: writing poetry is about as difficult as writing any kind of draft at home with one huge caveat: there’s a infinitesimal and dwindling market for poetry. In fact, our culture at large is debating whether it even matters at all in the internet age as this Huffington Post article on the the uselessness of poetry discusses:
When people talk about “poetry” as “poetry” they don’t usually think about Dr. Seuss or Nicki Minaj—and not often about Kipling or Langston Hughes either, even though those are probably some of the best-known poets around. Instead, in popular consciousness, poetry is synonymous with Dead Poet’s Society inspiration and sententious uplift. That’s because folks like Alexander have worked to create a myth of an essential poetry, poetry that is important because of what it is, rather than because of what it says.
If you’re not familiar with this, it’s basically the idea that contemporary writers inevitably (i.e. are doomed) to struggle (and often lose) against the over-emphasis (i.e. worship) of past (i.e. dead) writers.
My book isolates literary influence as the agon of influence, and perhaps I write to cure my own sense of having been overinfluenced since childhood by the great Western authors.
I’m not sure if Harold was right, but the constant emphasis and value attributed to “genius,” “masters,” and “canons” over current innovation and the value of contemporary writing must logically lead to some sort of self-fulfilling prophesy.
Why even try under this burden? This is at least one explanation of why so many writers never do.
If Being a Writer = Being a Weirdo, then Being a Poet = Being a Weirdo Dinosaur
The truth is that most people don’t get us creative types. We certainly wish they did & we often do our best to try to fit in. If we are working, aspiring, and producing we might or might not yet have cultural recognition, which makes it even worse. That said, there’s a difference between being a fantasy writer, a poet, and a children’s book author. Some genres translate better socially than others due to nothing more (and nothing greater) than fashion and pop culture.
Unless you live in Austin, Brooklyn, Boston, San Francisco or a few other literary hubs, telling someone you’re a poet is likely to invite jokes, outright derision, or the ultimate social death: silence. It feels kind of like dancing to Prince’s Little Red Corvette while wearing a raspberry beret.
Numbers from the Poetry Foundation back this up. Approximately 80% of non-users don’t know what most poetry means and they think it’s boring and irrelevant. The reports also show that this non-user percentage of the population represents approximately 85% of the overall American population. I never loved math but I really don’t like this math.
In this same report, it shows that most people believe that poets are white men who are illogical, creative loners. (Can I get a shout out for the “canon”?) Still over 70% of respondents said they respected and would like to meet a “poet.” What they mean here, kids, is that they want to meet a “real” poet who is at least mid-career.
Stereotypes aside, writers and especially poets, are rare birds (i.e. weirdos). This is why I was so glad when Leo Balbuta offered some nice insights to negotiating your own weirdness in Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different.
TGIF (and Thank God It’s a Conversation about Artistic Perfectionism)
Friday was pre-melt-down as I sat in my friend Andrew’s chair to get my hair did. Andrew is a musician and he talked a lot about how his perfectionism prevented him from ever finishing anything. Even though I encouraged him to weigh the costs of never finishing a song or album to sending imperfect work out, I also silently commiserated with him.
I have started a lot of projects this year that I’m determined to see to conclusion, even if that’s a failed or imperfect conclusion. And here;’s the thing: they will all be either failed or faulty. In short, I have to be willing to press against the great taboo of failure every day which takes a lot of creative delusion.
Other set-backs related to the grand trifecta happened. Example: missing 3 days of writing my novel (that’s over 6,000 words kids!)
Monday morning found my at my desk scribbling something like this:
Now this is the point where I like to give you an effective magical list that makes all these problems manageable. But today I’m not going to do that. These problems aren’t manageable because they’re actually dilemmas. Problems can be solved. There’s a definite end and beginning provided you have a solution. But a dilemma can only transform through the process of re-framing.
It never goes away; as our great literary heroes and heroines teach us, it’s the great compelling shape-shifter that dances through cycles of tension and release, ever after. Like the breath. Like time.
Our most perfect moments are found in those releases. Also known as epiphanies.
I have no epiphanies this week to explain away, minimize, or otherwise soften the creative fray of last week. All I know is that sometimes we have to work through uncertainty, against anxiety, and towards acceptance because
So instead of a magic bulleted list, here are some joyful & inspiring links for creatives going through frustrating and difficult times:
- I visited Spain for 10 weeks, including the Alhambra where I bought a a copy of Washington Irving’s Tales inspired by the palace, belly danced at a Grenada tea house & tried my first (awful) fresh olive. Check out this Huffington Post article on the lost love letter of the Alhambra.
- Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction’s Most Beloved Heroines
about made my heart stop. You can read Maria Popova’s nice review of it here (I do love me some Maria Popova!)
- I must admit to a bit of a love-hate relationship with Bukowski but this excerpt from his letters on not wasting his life broke my heart with its beauty:
I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.
To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.
I hope this week brings us both joy & that zingy feeling of moving forward with ease & grace,