The Only Thing to Fear Is…
Questions I ask myself when writing:
- Is it good enough?
- Is it publishable?
- Is it marketable?
- Could I sell this?
- Is it nuanced enough?
- Is the vocabulary “advanced” enough?
- Is it subtle enough?
- Will it earn me respect?
- Will it get me attention?
- Will enough people see it?
- Will enough people like it?
- Will it matter to anyone else?
Questions I SHOULD ask myself when writing:
- Does it provide a positive function for me, such as a sense of accomplishment, relief, or simple fulfillment of a passion?
This is seriously a perpetual battle that I face whenever I sit down to write something. And it doesn’t just apply to my poetry and other creative writing. I do this with my blog posts here on WordPress, with my more casual blog posts on other sites, even with my essays in college and, to a smaller extent, my social networking posts. I feel ugly, putting this out there like that, but so much of my satisfaction with my own writing comes from whether it will somehow advance me in terms of publicity or marketability of my own self.
And I know that’s wrong. I know that, in all likelihood, I would produce better art and better writing in general if I just wrote for myself. Or, in the event that I write for an audience, if I just wrote because it accomplished something positive rather than earning validation of some kind. Even if I didn’t make objectively better art—even if abandoning all thoughts of how my art appears to other people made me careless and my art sloppy—creating art would probably make me happier if I did it with the questions in mind that I should have rather than the ones I do.
So where does this mental block come from? Why do I have so much trouble focusing on making art for myself, even though I know the things I think about when I write are probably putting detrimental pressure on my writing process?
I think it largely comes from fear. Fear of not being good enough, fear of not having a future in something I love, fear of being looked down on. Fear of a lot of things. Fear keeps me asking questions about outcomes that are far less important, I think, than the act of creating.
Now, this isn’t by any means to say that fear is the only thing that bogs down my writing process. I have about a half a dozen unfinished spoken word pieces that I just “can’t get myself in the right frame of mind” to complete. A dozen more scraps of written material tucked away in my bedside drawer because “I don’t know where to go with it” or “I feel like anything I write to add to it will just water it down.” Who knows how many potential titles or opening lines strewn through various notebooks, so many that I don’t even know if I’d be able to find them to collect them all into one place, that are going nowhere because I “don’t feel inspired enough” to work on them.
But I honestly think that if I could let go of the fear, I could let go of a lot of those excuses. And let’s face it, they are excuses.
So now that I’ve realized that, what do I do next?
The most useful advice I’ve ever received is probably “write to your lowest standard.” Just let go of all expectations of the final product and be willing to write absolute crap for a while. But even doing that, the fear creeps in: What if I end up with crap I can’t make anything with? Writing to my lowest standard is all well and good when I tell myself that I can always edit later, but what if I can’t figure out how to edit it either? What if I never write anything I can be satisfied with ever again? What about all those first drafts in my bedside drawer that feel so stiff that I still feel like I’d need a damn jackhammer to crack them open, get between the lines, and change them?
I feel like now that I’ve laid this out, I should propose a solution. But if I had a solution, I wouldn’t be writing this in the first place. For now, the only thing I can think to do is immerse myself in art until I’m too awed and excited to be afraid. Maybe that’s the best thing we can do while we figure it out. In the meantime, if anyone’s got a better suggestion, I’d love to hear it.