Writing and Recovering
I have a pretty consistent writing cycle. It looks something like this:
I know this is a pretty crudely made flowchart, but I hope you’ll forgive me–I’m a words person, not a graphics person.
Anyway, this writing cycle has been at the core of my writing habits ever since I finally learned enough about poetry to know that I was a terrible poet. (Since then I’d like to think I have evolved into at least a mediocre poet.)
I spend a lot of time thinking about the nature of being an artist in any medium. Whether it’s music, poetry, novels, sculpture, painting, digital art, or any number of other forms of creative media, almost everyone I know who knows a damn thing about their craft hates almost everything they create.
I don’t really know what to make of this, other than to say that there is a strange comfort in knowing that. For a very long time I was sure that if I understood poetry, and I disliked my own poetry, that could only mean that I was making a correct educated opinion of my poetry when I told myself my poetry was awful. Then I saw a quote of Neil Gaiman’s on his Tumblr, answering an ask about how he handles feeling discouraged and saying that he initially responds to the feeling by “announcing gloomily that I can no longer write, have never been any good at it, and anything I’ve managed to do so far in the writing business was probably just sheer blind luck anyway.”
That was pretty much the moment I decided Neil Gaiman was my literary role model. I could probably write a whole post about that–perhaps I will later. But that’s beside the point.
The point is, that was also the moment where I started to accept that being self-conscious about my writing did not mean my writing was bad. It was the moment I realized that people who know what they’re doing, people who are good at it and successful at it and write things that millions of people love, still look at what they’ve written sometimes and think, “I’m hopeless.”
And that has honestly been one of the most powerful things I have learned in all the years I’ve been writing. At least some degree of self-loathing seem to be an inherent part of being an artist, but it does not invalidate the meaning of art.
The best thing I’ve ever had happen to me is when I did an impromptu poetry reading. It was at a friend’s house show–he had a bunch of loud punk rock artists come and play music. When I joked that the only thing I could contribute was poetry, which was a little at odds with what seemed to be the current theme, a handful of people there–including hardcore punk rockers who screamed their lyrics and said “fuck” every other word–told me I should do it. So I did.
And afterwards a few of those people, people I had no idea had ever shared any of my struggles, all came up to me to tell me how much they felt what I had said.
I still look at the pieces I performed and tell myself they’re garbage. But ultimately, they resonated with someone, didn’t they? Whatever I thought of them, they meant something, and they meant something even to someone who wasn’t me, someone who probably didn’t know I connected with their struggles any more than I knew they connected with mine. I think that’s a pretty amazing thing, and ultimately, what validates art–far more than the artists own, quite possibly slanted opinion.