Resolved: It’s ok for creative people to not be consumed with self-loathing.

Typewriter keyboardI am, rather famously (for some, very limited values of “famously”), a writer.

I’ve considered myself a writer since somewhere around late-junior-high, and for a sizeable chunk of my life, I’ve attempted to make some kind of living from being a writer. I am at heart an essayist, but I’m also comfortable with reviews, features, research papers, straight-up reporting, pretty much any non-fiction thing you might toss at me. Poetry and make-believe, not so much, but everything else? I’m on it. In the past, I would occasionally feel that if I were more serious, I would write fiction. And then I realized that I don’t want to write fiction. So I got over myself.

That’s the extent of my writer’s angst — the whole, entire enchilada. I used to kinda think maybe I should try my hand at fiction, and then I went: Nah.

But existing in a world of writers, as I do — and more broadly in a world of creatives of all types — I’m forever hearing (reading) a sort of ritualistic expression of self-loathing, often embracing the idea that if you’re ever genuinely satisfied with what you’ve created, your muse has died. DIED.

What the hell is up with that?

No, seriously. What the hell? Sure, we should all strive to improve. There’s always room for “better.” The top is never truly achieved, because in reaching it, the next mountain is created and if you want to grow in your field, you have to climb it, too. I am absolutely down with all of that.

And there is also such a thing as shitty work. There’s such a thing as work-produced-when-young-and-inexperienced. There’s such a thing as wishing now that you had done something differently then. No doubt.

But I am here today to propose an apparently world-shattering idea: It’s ok to think you’re good at your job. Even if you’re an artist.

There is nothing inherently noble to thinking that you suck, or that all your past work is unreadable, or that every true turn of phrase can only be born of blood, sweat, and dark nights of the tormented soul. Nothing.

I mean, if that’s your bag – if that’s how you produce your work and you really can’t do it any other way – well, ok. I suppose we all have to have our process, and if that’s yours, you do you. It sounds painful, but honestly (really): Who am I to judge?

But can the rest of us just stop acting like that’s the way it has to be? That if you’re a Real Writer (painter, poet, circus clown), you know nothing but dark nights of the tormented soul? We don’t expect brain surgeons, teachers, or software engineers to doubt their every step — why do we expect it of each other?

I’m a good writer. I’ve always been a pretty good writer. This is my gift — my one, single, solitary gift, the only thing I actually know how to do. I won’t deny it, and I refuse to treat self-doubt as a sign of purity. I strive to improve, and on one dark night when I believed I’d never write under my own by-line again, tears streamed down my face as I told my husband that now I’d never get a chance to be as good as I might be able to be. And yes, when I look back and discover work that doesn’t hold together like I thought it did at the time, I cringe. I’ll bet surgeons and teachers, et al, do the same. I may never be great — very few people are — but I’m good at my job.

If you’re a creative, I challenge you to consider that you, too, might be good at your job.

And that maybe less self-loathing and fewer dark nights might allow us to achieve even greater things.

The End.

7 Comments

  1. It is a trap many artists fall into. Great blog. Hugs, Barbara

  2. You should see the rituals we have in academia. You’re praised for “groundbreaking work” in every paper that the author thinks a journal might ask you to referee, then the same formerly groundbreaking work becomes “technical but really lacking in ideas” when the same author is refereeing your grant proposal. A couple of rounds of that, and you get the idea that none of it really means anything. You just have to figure out your worth on your own.

    (Found your blog a while ago via The Atlantic, and it’s Saturday night, and I really should be writing something else but I’m having trouble with it, so I’m here instead.)

    • I would submit (and not just because it’s WILDLY self-serving of me because, well, it describes my writing life precisely) that often when we think we’re screwing around and not writing, our brain is writing. And then we go back to the page, and there it is.

      Though sometimes we really are just screwing around. ; )

      • That’s true and I’ve seen it in my experience, and there’s hope that I might even have something to write tomorrow morning. Still, it’s sort of a new subject for me, and it’s very easy to write something completely vacuous about this particular thing, so we’ll see. Anyway, thanks for the post🙂

  3. Nice and inspiring ,I liked very much thanks for good words.I am going to share this with my friends Journalist .

  4. I feel like I want to print this out and hang it on my wall. I’ve just started my MA, and I’ve spent most of my undergrad degree (in fact most of my time in education) being full of fear that this essay, or the next essay, is going to be the one where everyone finds out I’m a fraud and I’m not actually as bright as they think I am. Trying to get over that, and I think it would help if when I do produce something that I’m genuinely proud of, I’m able to accept and admit it – even to myself!

  5. mom

     /  October 6, 2013

    You are phenomenal as a mother and a wife, two other “jobs” in your life. Your parenting and partnering are to be envied.