Archive for the 'Inner Critic' Category

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 4

Every year, I rerun my popular 4-part series on perfectionism and how to overcome its potentially crippling effects on creativity. Here’s the final installment:
(To read the previous installments, click here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3.)

Have you ever written a story (an essay, a screenplay, a poem…), then decided it wasn’t worth the price of the paper and ink you wasted on it? Have you imagined people laughing when they read it (and not in a good way)? Have you believed your work had no sparkle, was boring, was not noteworthy?

If you’re a writer, the answer is probably yes.

In my last post about perfectionism, I discussed the importance of creating even when your life isn’t in perfect order. But what if you’ve managed to write something you don’t believe deserves to see the light of day?

Here’s a little secret my Inner Perfectionist tried to hide from me for a long time: a lot of what you write will be bad. Or uninspired. Boring. Or half-finished because the idea fizzled out. And that’s okay. It’s not only okay, it’s part of the creative process.

Let me repeat that, because it’s important: Producing bad writing is part of the creative process.

It’s easy to imagine our favorite authors sitting at their desks, inspired every day while they effortlessly write out the masterpieces we love, barely changing a comma once they’ve finished. But it’s important to remember they struggled just as much as we do.

Here’s a little proof:

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper. —Isaac Bashevis Singer

Easy reading is damn hard writing. —Nathaniel Hawthorne

Every writer I know has trouble writing. —Joseph Heller

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. —George Orwell

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with. —William Faulkner

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within. —Gustave Flaubert

I could go on, but you get the point.

Here’s the only way I know to combat this problem: Allow yourself to make mistakes. Write with abandon. Fail spectacularly.

An editor once told me my submission to his literary journal was the silliest story he’d ever read. Ouch! My own Inner Perfectionist couldn’t have dismissed my efforts with more derision. But I didn’t let his comments stop me. Okay, I may have cried a little. Or cursed the editor for his abysmal judgment. It’s possible I stuck a few pins into my literary journal editor-shaped voodoo doll.

But then I picked myself up, applied some ego salve to my bruised psyche, and raised my pen again. Because here’s what I’ve learned: Creative gems live in the middle of piles of dreck. Diamonds aren’t mined from pits lined with sheets of diamond, and gold isn’t panned from rivers of gold. These things are more valuable because they are rarer than the rock and the water they inhabit. You have to get your hands dirty, covered in grit and slime, to pull out a gem. It’s the same with a work of art.

mine tunnel

The only way to write a good story (essay, screenplay, poem…) is to write lots of bad stories (essays, screenplays, poems…). Embrace your mediocre writing and your pieces that fizzle out. Because the more rock you chisel through, the closer you get to a diamond. And once you start finding diamonds, a funny thing happens. Your percentage of dirty rock to diamond shifts, and you gradually begin to find more precious things within your huge pile of work.

It’s never going to be all diamonds and no rock. Not even close. But as you continue to work at your craft, you learn to spot the diamonds more easily and to mine them faster. You learn to polish dull gems and make them shine. And, perhaps most important, you finally learn to stop hating the rock. Because you realize it’s just a layer you must get through in order to reach the jewel within.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
CLICK HERE!   (To learn more, click here)

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 3

Every year, I rerun my popular 4-part series on perfectionism and how to overcome its potentially crippling effects on creativity. Here’s the third installment:
(To read the first installment, click here. For the second installment, click here.)

I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about perfectionism lately, and I can see two particular ways in which it has hampered my creativity over the years: Needing my life to be in perfect order before I can really devote time to writing. And feeling my writing isn’t good enough, because it’s not perfect. In this post, I’m going to talk about the first issue, and I’ll discuss the second one next time.

abstract
Here are some things I’ve learned: Life is messy. Creativity is messy. Muses come to you at the worst possible times. They arrive when you can’t possibly listen to them because your world will fall apart if you don’t finish the big work project/get another hour of sleep/re-grout the shower right now. They arrive when you’re tired and cranky and you don’t care about their amazing creative insights. They come to you straight from a Paris café on a sunny afternoon where they were just biting into the perfect tarte au citron. They arrive with crumbs still falling down their chins because they had a brilliant idea for you that couldn’t wait. They expect you to drop everything and listen to their inspirational comments.

Alternately, muses are good at vanishing. They disappear just when you want them the most. They start pouting and storm off right in the middle of a wonderful creative session. Or they suddenly have pressing business elsewhere and won’t stay, even when you beg. They abandon you, leaving you astonished because you thought things were going so well. Or they never arrive at all. They stop taking your calls and won’t tell you why.

And here’s the thing. If you want to create, you must create anyway. If you want to write or paint or sculpt or make music, you must write or paint or sculpt or make music in spite of everything. You must do it when your muse is acting up, and you must do it when you’re cranky, and you must do it when you’re busy.

Because if you don’t write, you’re not writing. If you don’t paint, you’re not painting. In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard said “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” If you don’t spend your days creating, you’re not spending your life creating.

Not to put any pressure on you or anything.

puzzle pieces
Something else I’ve learned—and it’s taken me years to truly understand this—is that creativity can take place in tiny bites. You don’t have to set aside big chunks of time to write a novel. You don’t have to complete a short story in one sitting. Or a poem. Even a haiku.

I once completed a series of stories by setting aside 15 minutes a day when I was working full time and freelancing on the side and felt swamped all the time. I began stopping at a sheltered bench or a hotel lobby every morning after my commute downtown. I wrote for 15 minutes before heading to my office. Once I got into the flow of this daily writing habit, I was amazed at how much I could get done in such a short time.

You can spend five minutes creating metaphors twice a week, spend 15 minutes working on your memoir another three days, write a couple of lines in your head once or twice in the shower. If you engage in these small moments of creativity most days, a flow begins.

Soon the metaphor about the grandfather clock slips into your memoir as a pithy reflection on your family’s tendency to eat breakfast food at dinnertime. The quick description you wrote in your head while showering becomes a narrative about the bully who harassed you on your first day of elementary school. Before you know it, you’ve written the first five chapters of your book.

It really does work. And your days will feel richer because you’ve dotted them with creativity, and forced your Inner Perfectionist to go away and leave you alone.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
CLICK HERE!   (To learn more, click here)

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 2

Every year, I rerun my popular 4-part series on perfectionism and how to overcome its potentially crippling effects on creativity. Here’s the second installment:
(To read the first installment, click here.)

My name is Sandy, and I am a recovering perfectionist.

I’ve been having a hard time finishing a blog post about perfectionism, and my husband has teased that it’s because what I’ve written isn’t perfect. But there may be more than a little truth in his joke. Because one of the negative effects of perfectionism is procrastination.

Perfection doesn’t exist. And if imperfection isn’t okay, what’s a perfectionist to do? Well, nothing, obviously. Or flounder around and never finish the imperfect thing.

chairs

I don’t have difficulty discussing many of my personal creativity-hampering issues on this blog, so why the problem now? I’m guessing it’s because a while back, I mentioned to a regular reader that I was planning on writing a post about perfectionism. She told me she was looking forward to hearing what I have to say, because it’s an issue she struggles with.

A reasonable reaction on my part would be to feel flattered she believes my thoughts on the subject could help her. Instead, my inner Perfectionist sprang into action, prompted by that innocent comment. She emerged from her dark cave, scorching me with her fiery breath and clawing at my Muse as she presented her list of demands:

  1. I must write the most inspiring words ever written about the debilitating effects of perfectionism on creativity.
  2. My post must be beautiful and meaningful and important.
  3. It must be good enough to enable anyone who reads it to eradicate their perfectionist tendencies forever and go on to lengthy, fertile creative lives with no negative blocks whatsoever.
  4. It must be PERFECT.

Is it any wonder I kept putting off writing a blog post about perfectionism, discovering other topics that suddenly seemed more interesting? And that when I finally did start writing it, I found myself continually distracted and/or writing around the subject?

dragon with fire

To make matters worse, my Perfectionist is sneaky. I didn’t consciously realize she was doing all this. Yes, I remember momentarily thinking “oh, I better write something really good, then” after the aforementioned comment by my blog reader friend. But I quickly forgot about it. Meanwhile, my Perfectionist was poking her head out of her lair, exhaling her unhealthy, fiery breath all over me while I went about my life, unaware of her damaging presence.

But I gradually began to notice her. My evasive maneuvers to avoid writing the post became clear to me. And, once I forced myself to start writing, my uncharacteristic inability to complete my thoughts brought the invisible Perfectionist into full view.

It’s been quite a battle wrestling that ferocious dragon back into her cave. How did I do it? By writing what you’ve just read. By confessing I’m not perfect—to you and to myself. By being willing to accept the run-on sentences and typos and imprefect grammar and less-than-profound thoughts that appear in my writing.

I do have more to say about perfectionism in general, and I’ll try to write something coherent about it soon. But I felt it might be helpful to share my personal struggle here first.

And thank you to that unnamed regular reader and friend who told me you were looking forward to my perfectionism post. Because the situation forced me to have an open battle with my lifelong nemesis, the Perfectionist Dragon, thereby weakening her just a little bit more. And, while I haven’t been able to write some magical perfect post that will eradicate your perfectionism, maybe you’ll feel a little better knowing my dragon is just as big as yours.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
CLICK HERE!   (To learn more, click here)

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler

journey

Every year, I rerun my popular 4-part series on perfectionism and how to overcome its potentially crippling effects on creativity. Here’s the first installment:

I currently have a half-written blog post about perfectionism and its destructive effect on creativity. For some reason, every time I get back to it, I’m interrupted…hmmm…there’s that stressful life making things difficult again…

Until I can finish up what I have to say about the evils of perfectionism, I’m going to share a few words of wisdom on the topic from other creative people:

A lot of disappointed people have been left standing on the street corner waiting for the bus marked Perfection.
~Donald Kennedy

Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again.
~Julia Cameron

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.
~Anna Quindlen

The maxim ‘Nothing but perfection’ may be spelled ‘Paralysis’.
~Winston Churchill

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.
~Salvador Dali

An artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing.
~Eugene Delacroix

Perfectionism is the enemy of creation…
~John Updike

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
CLICK HERE!   (To learn more, click here)

Armed and Dangerous

This is one of my favorite exercises, so I’m posting it again: Choose something that blocks you from creating and visualize it as a character. Then write something about him or her. It can be a description of the character, a poem, a metaphor, an action scene, a dialogue, a haiku, a 1-sentence memoir or anything else. Get creative!

Here’s one of mine:

The minute she walked into my office I knew she was trouble. She had a pair of To Do lists that just wouldn’t quit. Longfemme fatale and persuasive like I like them. She leaned against the wall and pulled a tapered black pen out of her clutch.

I acted surprised, but she could tell I was expecting her. Ms. Always-Too-Busy was no stranger to me. She had obstruction written all over her, written as clearly as the words she was adding to the bottom of the second list: “Groceries. Vacuum. Pay bills. Work!”

I knew I should walk away, but there was something about this dame that always made me stay. I’d stay until she seduced me into crossing every item off her lists. I’d stay until my Muse stormed away, pouting. I’d stay until she left me spent and lying in a pool of my own neglected words.

Like I said, the dame was trouble. Trouble with a never-ending To Do List.


DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
CLICK HERE!   (To learn more, click here)

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 4

Every Fall, I rerun my popular 4-part series on perfectionism and how to overcome its potentially crippling effects on creativity. Here’s the final installment:
(To read the previous installments, click here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3.)

Have you ever written a story (an essay, a screenplay, a poem…), then decided it wasn’t worth the price of the paper and ink you wasted on it? Have you imagined people laughing when they read it (and not in a good way)? Have you believed your work had no sparkle, was boring, was not noteworthy?

If you’re a writer, the answer is probably yes.

In my last post about perfectionism, I discussed the importance of creating even when your life isn’t in perfect order. But what if you’ve managed to write something you don’t believe deserves to see the light of day?

Here’s a little secret my Inner Perfectionist tried to hide from me for a long time: a lot of what you write will be bad. Or uninspired. Boring. Or half-finished because the idea fizzled out. And that’s okay. It’s not only okay, it’s part of the creative process.

Let me repeat that, because it’s important: Producing bad writing is part of the creative process.

It’s easy to imagine our favorite authors sitting at their desks, inspired every day while they effortlessly write out the masterpieces we love, barely changing a comma once they’ve finished. But it’s important to remember they struggled just as much as we do.

Here’s a little proof:

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper. —Isaac Bashevis Singer

Easy reading is damn hard writing. —Nathaniel Hawthorne

Every writer I know has trouble writing. —Joseph Heller

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. —George Orwell

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with. —William Faulkner

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within. —Gustave Flaubert

I could go on, but you get the point.

Here’s the only way I know to combat this problem: Allow yourself to make mistakes. Write with abandon. Fail spectacularly.

An editor once told me my submission to his literary journal was the silliest story he’d ever read. Ouch! My own Inner Perfectionist couldn’t have dismissed my efforts with more derision. But I didn’t let his comments stop me. Okay, I may have cried a little. Or cursed the editor for his abysmal judgment. It’s possible I stuck a few pins into my literary journal editor-shaped voodoo doll.

But then I picked myself up, applied some ego salve to my bruised psyche, and raised my pen again. Because here’s what I’ve learned: Creative gems live in the middle of piles of dreck. Diamonds aren’t mined from pits lined with sheets of diamond, and gold isn’t panned from rivers of gold. These things are more valuable because they are rarer than the rock and the water they inhabit. You have to get your hands dirty, covered in grit and slime, to pull out a gem. It’s the same with a work of art.

mine tunnel

The only way to write a good story (essay, screenplay, poem…) is to write lots of bad stories (essays, screenplays, poems…). Embrace your mediocre writing and your pieces that fizzle out. Because the more rock you chisel through, the closer you get to a diamond. And once you start finding diamonds, a funny thing happens. Your percentage of dirty rock to diamond shifts, and you gradually begin to find more precious things within your huge pile of work.

It’s never going to be all diamonds and no rock. Not even close. But as you continue to work at your craft, you learn to spot the diamonds more easily and to mine them faster. You learn to polish dull gems and make them shine. And, perhaps most important, you finally learn to stop hating the rock. Because you realize it’s just a layer you must get through in order to reach the jewel within.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
To learn more, click here!

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 3

Every Fall, I rerun my popular 4-part series on perfectionism and how to overcome its potentially crippling effects on creativity. Here’s the third installment:
(To read the first installment, click here. For the second installment, click here.)

I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about perfectionism lately, and I can see two particular ways in which it has hampered my creativity over the years: Needing my life to be in perfect order before I can really devote time to writing. And feeling my writing isn’t good enough, because it’s not perfect. In this post, I’m going to talk about the first issue, and I’ll discuss the second one next time.

abstract
Here are some things I’ve learned: Life is messy. Creativity is messy. Muses come to you at the worst possible times. They arrive when you can’t possibly listen to them because your world will fall apart if you don’t finish the big work project/get another hour of sleep/re-grout the shower right now. They arrive when you’re tired and cranky and you don’t care about their amazing creative insights. They come to you straight from a Paris café on a sunny afternoon where they were just biting into the perfect tarte au citron. They arrive with crumbs still falling down their chins because they had a brilliant idea for you that couldn’t wait. They expect you to drop everything and listen to their inspirational comments.

Alternately, muses are good at vanishing. They disappear just when you want them the most. They start pouting and storm off right in the middle of a wonderful creative session. Or they suddenly have pressing business elsewhere and won’t stay, even when you beg. They abandon you, leaving you astonished because you thought things were going so well. Or they never arrive at all. They stop taking your calls and won’t tell you why.

And here’s the thing. If you want to create, you must create anyway. If you want to write or paint or sculpt or make music, you must write or paint or sculpt or make music in spite of everything. You must do it when your muse is acting up, and you must do it when you’re cranky, and you must do it when you’re busy.

Because if you don’t write, you’re not writing. If you don’t paint, you’re not painting. In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard said “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” If you don’t spend your days creating, you’re not spending your life creating.

Not to put any pressure on you or anything.

puzzle pieces
Something else I’ve learned—and it’s taken me years to truly understand this—is that creativity can take place in tiny bites. You don’t have to set aside big chunks of time to write a novel. You don’t have to complete a short story in one sitting. Or a poem. Even a haiku.

I once completed a series of stories by setting aside 15 minutes a day when I was working full time and freelancing on the side and felt swamped all the time. I began stopping at a sheltered bench or a hotel lobby every morning after my commute downtown. I wrote for 15 minutes before heading to my office. Once I got into the flow of this daily writing habit, I was amazed at how much I could get done in such a short time.

You can spend five minutes creating metaphors twice a week, spend 15 minutes working on your memoir another three days, write a couple of lines in your head once or twice in the shower. If you engage in these small moments of creativity most days, a flow begins.

Soon the metaphor about the grandfather clock slips into your memoir as a pithy reflection on your family’s tendency to eat breakfast food at dinnertime. The quick description you wrote in your head while showering becomes a narrative about the bully who harassed you on your first day of elementary school. Before you know it, you’ve written the first five chapters of your book.

It really does work. And your days will feel richer because you’ve dotted them with creativity, and forced your Inner Perfectionist to go away and leave you alone.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
To learn more, click here!

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 2

Every Fall, I rerun my popular 4-part series on perfectionism and how to overcome its potentially crippling effects on creativity. Here’s the second installment:
(To read the first installment, click here.)

My name is Sandy, and I am a recovering perfectionist.

I’ve been having a hard time finishing a blog post about perfectionism, and my husband has teased that it’s because what I’ve written isn’t perfect. But there may be more than a little truth in his joke. Because one of the negative effects of perfectionism is procrastination.

Perfection doesn’t exist. And if imperfection isn’t okay, what’s a perfectionist to do? Well, nothing, obviously. Or flounder around and never finish the imperfect thing.

chairs

I don’t have difficulty discussing many of my personal creativity-hampering issues on this blog, so why the problem now? I’m guessing it’s because a while back, I mentioned to a regular reader that I was planning on writing a post about perfectionism. She told me she was looking forward to hearing what I have to say, because it’s an issue she struggles with.

A reasonable reaction on my part would be to feel flattered she believes my thoughts on the subject could help her. Instead, my inner Perfectionist sprang into action, prompted by that innocent comment. She emerged from her dark cave, scorching me with her fiery breath and clawing at my Muse as she presented her list of demands:

  1. I must write the most inspiring words ever written about the debilitating effects of perfectionism on creativity.
  2. My post must be beautiful and meaningful and important.
  3. It must be good enough to enable anyone who reads it to eradicate their perfectionist tendencies forever and go on to lengthy, fertile creative lives with no negative blocks whatsoever.
  4. It must be PERFECT.

Is it any wonder I kept putting off writing a blog post about perfectionism, discovering other topics that suddenly seemed more interesting? And that when I finally did start writing it, I found myself continually distracted and/or writing around the subject?

dragon with fire

To make matters worse, my Perfectionist is sneaky. I didn’t consciously realize she was doing all this. Yes, I remember momentarily thinking “oh, I better write something really good, then” after the aforementioned comment by my blog reader friend. But I quickly forgot about it. Meanwhile, my Perfectionist was poking her head out of her lair, exhaling her unhealthy, fiery breath all over me while I went about my life, unaware of her damaging presence.

But I gradually began to notice her. My evasive maneuvers to avoid writing the post became clear to me. And, once I forced myself to start writing, my uncharacteristic inability to complete my thoughts brought the invisible Perfectionist into full view.

It’s been quite a battle wrestling that ferocious dragon back into her cave. How did I do it? By writing what you’ve just read. By confessing I’m not perfect—to you and to myself. By being willing to accept the run-on sentences and typos and imprefect grammar and less-than-profound thoughts that appear in my writing.

I do have more to say about perfectionism in general, and I’ll try to write something coherent about it soon. But I felt it might be helpful to share my personal struggle here first.

And thank you to that unnamed regular reader and friend who told me you were looking forward to my perfectionism post. Because the situation forced me to have an open battle with my lifelong nemesis, the Perfectionist Dragon, thereby weakening her just a little bit more. And, while I haven’t been able to write some magical perfect post that will eradicate your perfectionism, maybe you’ll feel a little better knowing my dragon’s just as big as yours.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
To learn more, click here!

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler

journey

Every Fall, I rerun my popular 4-part series on perfectionism and how to overcome its potentially crippling effects on creativity. Here’s the first installment:

I currently have a half-written blog post about perfectionism and its destructive effect on creativity. For some reason, every time I get back to it, I’m interrupted…hmmm…there’s that stressful life making things difficult again…

Until I can finish up what I have to say about the evils of perfectionism, I’m going to share a few words of wisdom on the topic from other creative people:

A lot of disappointed people have been left standing on the street corner waiting for the bus marked Perfection.
~Donald Kennedy

Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again.
~Julia Cameron

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.
~Anna Quindlen

The maxim ‘Nothing but perfection’ may be spelled ‘Paralysis’.
~Winston Churchill

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.
~Salvador Dali

An artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing.
~Eugene Delacroix

Perfectionism is the enemy of creation…
~John Updike

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
To learn more, click here!

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 4

This week I’m rerunning my series on perfectionism, which struck quite a chord with readers last year. Here’s the fourth and final installment:

Have you ever written a story (an essay, a screenplay, a poem…), then decided it wasn’t worth the price of the paper and ink you wasted on it? Have you imagined people laughing when they read it (and not in a good way)? Have you believed your work had no sparkle, was boring, was not noteworthy?

If you’re a writer, the answer is probably yes.

In my last post about perfectionism, I discussed the importance of creating even when your life isn’t in perfect order. But what if you’ve managed to write something you don’t believe deserves to see the light of day?

Here’s a little secret my Inner Perfectionist tried to hide from me for a long time: a lot of what you write will be bad. Or uninspired. Boring. Or half-finished because the idea fizzled out. And that’s okay. It’s not only okay, it’s part of the creative process.

Let me repeat that, because it’s important: Producing bad writing is part of the creative process.

reflected trees

It’s easy to imagine our favorite authors sitting at their desks, inspired every day while they effortlessly write out the masterpieces we love, barely changing a comma once they’ve finished. But it’s important to remember they struggled just as much as we do.

Here’s a little proof:

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper. —Isaac Bashevis Singer

Easy reading is damn hard writing. —Nathaniel Hawthorne

Every writer I know has trouble writing. —Joseph Heller

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. —George Orwell

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with. —William Faulkner

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within. —Gustave Flaubert

I could go on, but you get the point.

Here’s the only way I know to combat this problem: Allow yourself to make mistakes. Write with abandon. Fail spectacularly.

An editor once told me my submission to his literary journal was the silliest story he’d ever read. Ouch! My own Inner Perfectionist couldn’t have dismissed my efforts with more derision. But I didn’t let his comments stop me. Okay, I may have cried a little. Or cursed the editor for his abysmal judgment. It’s possible I stuck a few pins into my literary journal editor-shaped voodoo doll.

But then I picked myself up, applied some ego salve to my bruised psyche, and raised my pen again. Because here’s what I’ve learned: Creative gems live in the middle of piles of dreck. Diamonds aren’t mined from pits lined with sheets of diamond, and gold isn’t panned from rivers of gold. These things are more valuable because they are rarer than the rock and the water they inhabit. You have to get your hands dirty, covered in grit and slime, to pull out a gem. It’s the same with a work of art.

mine tunnel

The only way to write a good story (essay, screenplay, poem…) is to write lots of bad stories (essays, screenplays, poems…). Embrace your mediocre writing and your pieces that fizzle out. Because the more rock you chisel through, the closer you get to a diamond. And once you start finding diamonds, a funny thing happens. Your percentage of dirty rock to diamond shifts, and you gradually begin to find more precious things within your huge pile of work.

It’s never going to be all diamonds and no rock. Not even close. But as you continue to work at your craft, you learn to spot the diamonds more easily and to mine them faster. You learn to polish dull gems and make them shine. And, perhaps most important, you finally learn to stop hating the rock. Because you realize it’s just a layer you must get through in order to reach the jewel within.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 3

This week I’m rerunning my series on perfectionism, which struck quite a chord with readers last year. Here’s the third installment:

I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about perfectionism lately, and I can see two particular ways in which it has hampered my creativity over the years: Needing my life to be in perfect order before I can really devote time to writing. And feeling my writing isn’t good enough, because it’s not perfect. In this post, I’m going to talk about the first issue, and I’ll discuss the second one next time.

abstract
Here are some things I’ve learned: Life is messy. Creativity is messy. Muses come to you at the worst possible times. They arrive when you can’t possibly listen to them because your world will fall apart if you don’t finish the big work project/get another hour of sleep/re-grout the shower right now. They arrive when you’re tired and cranky and you don’t care about their amazing creative insights. They come to you straight from a Paris café on a sunny afternoon where they were just biting into the perfect tarte au citron. They arrive with crumbs still falling down their chins because they had a brilliant idea for you that couldn’t wait. They expect you to drop everything and listen to their inspirational comments.

Alternately, muses are good at vanishing. They disappear just when you want them the most. They start pouting and storm off right in the middle of a wonderful creative session. Or they suddenly have pressing business elsewhere and won’t stay, even when you beg. They abandon you, leaving you astonished because you thought things were going so well. Or they never arrive at all. They stop taking your calls and won’t tell you why.

And here’s the thing. If you want to create, you must create anyway. If you want to write or paint or sculpt or make music, you must write or paint or sculpt or make music in spite of everything. You must do it when your muse is acting up, and you must do it when you’re cranky, and you must do it when you’re busy.

Because if you don’t write, you’re not writing. If you don’t paint, you’re not painting. In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard said “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” If you don’t spend your days creating, you’re not spending your life creating.

Not to put any pressure on you or anything.

puzzle pieces
Something else I’ve learned—and it’s taken me years to truly understand this—is that creativity can take place in tiny bites. You don’t have to set aside big chunks of time to write a novel. You don’t have to complete a short story in one sitting. Or a poem. Even a haiku.

I once completed a series of stories by setting aside 15 minutes a day when I was working full time and freelancing on the side and felt swamped all the time. I began stopping at a sheltered bench or a hotel lobby every morning after my commute downtown. I wrote for 15 minutes before heading to my office. Once I got into the flow of this daily writing habit, I was amazed at how much I could get done in such a short time.

You can spend five minutes creating metaphors twice a week, spend 15 minutes working on your memoir another three days, write a couple of lines in your head once or twice in the shower. If you engage in these small moments of creativity most days, a flow begins.

Soon the metaphor about the grandfather clock slips into your memoir as a pithy reflection on your family’s tendency to eat breakfast food at dinnertime. The quick description you wrote in your head while showering becomes a narrative about the bully who harassed you on your first day of elementary school. Before you know it, you’ve written the first five chapters of your book.

It really does work. And your days will feel richer because you’ve dotted them with creativity, and forced your Inner Perfectionist to go away and leave you alone.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 2

This week I’m rerunning my series on perfectionism, which struck quite a chord with readers last year. Here’s the second installment:

My name is Sandy, and I am a recovering perfectionist.

I’ve been having a hard time finishing a blog post about perfectionism, and my husband has teased that it’s because what I’ve written isn’t perfect. But there may be more than a little truth in his joke. Because one of the negative effects of perfectionism is procrastination.

Perfection doesn’t exist. And if imperfection isn’t okay, what’s a perfectionist to do? Well, nothing, obviously. Or flounder around and never finish the imperfect thing.

chairs

I don’t have difficulty discussing many of my personal creativity-hampering issues on this blog, so why the problem now? I’m guessing it’s because a while back, I mentioned to a regular reader that I was planning on writing a post about perfectionism. She told me she was looking forward to hearing what I have to say, because it’s an issue she struggles with.

A reasonable reaction on my part would be to feel flattered she believes my thoughts on the subject could help her. Instead, my inner Perfectionist sprang into action, prompted by that innocent comment. She emerged from her dark cave, scorching me with her fiery breath and clawing at my Muse as she presented her list of demands:

  1. I must write the most inspiring words ever written about the debilitating effects of perfectionism on creativity.
  2. My post must be beautiful and meaningful and important.
  3. It must be good enough to enable anyone who reads it to eradicate their perfectionist tendencies forever and go on to lengthy, fertile creative lives with no negative blocks whatsoever.
  4. It must be PERFECT.

Is it any wonder I kept putting off writing a blog post about perfectionism, discovering other topics that suddenly seemed more interesting? And that when I finally did start writing it, I found myself continually distracted and/or writing around the subject?

dragon with fire

To make matters worse, my Perfectionist is sneaky. I didn’t consciously realize she was doing all this. Yes, I remember momentarily thinking “oh, I better write something really good, then” after the aforementioned comment by my blog reader friend. But I quickly forgot about it. Meanwhile, my Perfectionist was poking her head out of her lair, exhaling her unhealthy, fiery breath all over me while I went about my life, unaware of her damaging presence.

But I gradually began to notice her. My evasive maneuvers to avoid writing the post became clear to me. And, once I forced myself to start writing, my uncharacteristic inability to complete my thoughts brought the invisible Perfectionist into full view.

It’s been quite a battle wrestling that ferocious dragon back into her cave. How did I do it? By writing what you’ve just read. By confessing I’m not perfect—to you and to myself. By being willing to accept the run-on sentences and typos and imprefect grammar and less-than-profound thoughts that appear in my writing.

I do have more to say about perfectionism in general, and I’ll try to write something coherent about it soon. But I felt it might be helpful to share my personal struggle here first.

And thank you to that unnamed regular reader and friend who told me you were looking forward to my perfectionism post. Because the situation forced me to have an open battle with my lifelong nemesis, the Perfectionist Dragon, thereby weakening her just a little bit more. And, while I haven’t been able to write some magical perfect post that will eradicate your perfectionism, maybe you’ll feel a little better knowing my dragon’s just as big as yours.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Defuse Your Inner Critic With This Explosive Visualization

When I was a kid, we had a computer at home long before most people did because my father was a scientist. (Actually, I first experienced a computer that took up an entire small room in my dad’s lab. My sister and I learned to play blackjack on it as tiny girls when my mother dropped us off to hang out with Dad while she ran errands. But I digress.)

By the time we had a computer at home, I was a teenager and focused on other things, like my social life. But my little brother taught himself programming, and developed a few rudimentary games. One of them sticks in my memory, because I found it amusing. He created a program that allowed you to simulate a person you hated by choosing basic characteristics like sex and hair color. Once you’d constructed your nemesis, you could make him or her explode. That was the entire game.

Thinking about that game of my brother’s always makes me smile. It’s such a perfect illustration of an elementary school boy’s desire for emotional gratification. I remember the glee with which he demonstrated it to me, creating his schoolyard enemy and then eradicating him.

I thought about my brother’s game again today while contemplating the negative inner voices that keep so many of us from being the fully creative individuals we’re meant to be. Wouldn’t it be great if we could blow those eternal critics to smithereens once and for all? Detonate the Inner Perfectionist who tells us our creations aren’t good enough? Blast away the Mean-spirited Fault-Finder who tells us we aren’t good enough? Destroy all the voices insisting we’re not really writers and, by the way, our work stinks?

I decided to create my own version of the exploding enemy game, one that writers can visualize any time those nasty voices start their negative humming in our heads. The explosion you create in this visualization is gentler than in my brother’s game, but feel free to modify it in any way that works for you:

Close your eyes.

Relax with your hands in your lap, palms facing up.

Take three deep breaths. As you exhale, relax the muscles in your face, your neck, your shoulders. Feel the tension dripping away, all the way down your body and through the floor.

Now breathe normally and listen to the inner voice that’s telling you something negative. Really hear what he or she is saying. If there’s more than one voice or one message, just focus on the loudest one—you can go back and do the visualization again for each voice, if necessary.

As you listen to the voice and its message, imagine it as a character. Visualize how this inner critic looks and watch him as he yells, sneers or whispers his negative message. Take your time with this. The voice may come to life as a person, a monster, an object or anything else you can picture. Imagine the details of your critic’s face, body, clothes and gestures.

Once you have a clear image of your inner critic as a solid character spewing his negative message at you, imagine he’s suddenly being pulled a couple of feet up into the air by his shoulders. He’s still berating you, but his legs are moving helplessly, and it makes him look slightly comical.

Against his will, your inner critic is gradually pulled further and further up. It’s as if he’s attached to invisible marionette strings and the puppeteer is drawing him away from you.

As he floats upward, your inner critic’s voice becomes fainter and fainter…

You watch while he becomes increasingly smaller. Once he’s transformed into a tiny, ineffectual cartoon high in the air, he breaks up into a million pieces and dissolves into the sky.

Now that he’s gone, you look down again. You realize you’re standing in a beautiful meadow. You can feel the warmth of the sun on your face, and the grass is soft underneath your bare feet. You breathe in the scent of flowers and inhale the calming tranquility of the peaceful meadow.

Now open your eyes and begin writing.

Repeat this visualization every time an inner critic appears and tries to slow down or prevent the creativity you truly deserve to express.

Copyright @ Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 4

Have you ever written a story (an essay, a screenplay, a poem…), then decided it wasn’t worth the price of the paper and ink you wasted on it? Have you imagined people laughing when they read it (and not in a good way)? Have you believed your work had no sparkle, was boring, was not noteworthy?

If you’re a writer, the answer is probably yes.

In my last post about perfectionism, I discussed the importance of creating even when your life isn’t in perfect order. But what if you’ve managed to write something you don’t believe deserves to see the light of day?

Here’s a little secret my Inner Perfectionist tried to hide from me for a long time: a lot of what you write will be bad. Or uninspired. Boring. Or half-finished because the idea fizzled out. And that’s okay. It’s not only okay, it’s part of the creative process.

Let me repeat that, because it’s important: Producing bad writing is part of the creative process.

reflected trees

It’s easy to imagine our favorite authors sitting at their desks, inspired every day while they effortlessly write out the masterpieces we love, barely changing a comma once they’ve finished. But it’s important to remember they struggled just as much as we do.

Here’s a little proof:

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper. —Isaac Bashevis Singer

Easy reading is damn hard writing. —Nathaniel Hawthorne

Every writer I know has trouble writing. —Joseph Heller

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. —George Orwell

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with. —William Faulkner

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within. —Gustave Flaubert

I could go on, but you get the point.

Here’s the only way I know to combat this problem: Allow yourself to make mistakes. Write with abandon. Fail spectacularly.

An editor once told me my submission to his literary journal was the silliest story he’d ever read. Ouch! My own Inner Perfectionist couldn’t have dismissed my efforts with more derision. But I didn’t let his comments stop me. Okay, I may have cried a little. Or cursed the editor for his abysmal judgment. It’s possible I stuck a few pins into my literary journal editor-shaped voodoo doll.

But then I picked myself up, applied some ego salve to my bruised psyche, and raised my pen again. Because here’s what I’ve learned: Creative gems live in the middle of piles of dreck. Diamonds aren’t mined from pits lined with sheets of diamond, and gold isn’t panned from rivers of gold. These things are more valuable because they are rarer than the rock and the water they inhabit. You have to get your hands dirty, covered in grit and slime, to pull out a gem. It’s the same with a work of art.

mine tunnel

The only way to write a good story (essay, screenplay, poem…) is to write lots of bad stories (essays, screenplays, poems…). Embrace your mediocre writing and your pieces that fizzle out. Because the more rock you chisel through, the closer you get to a diamond. And once you start finding diamonds, a funny thing happens. Your percentage of dirty rock to diamond shifts, and you gradually begin to find more precious things within your huge pile of work.

It’s never going to be all diamonds and no rock. Not even close. But as you continue to work at your craft, you learn to spot the diamonds more easily and to mine them faster. You learn to polish dull gems and make them shine. And, perhaps most important, you finally learn to stop hating the rock. Because you realize it’s just a layer you must get through in order to reach the jewel within.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 3

I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about perfectionism lately, and I can see two particular ways in which it has hampered my creativity over the years: Needing my life to be in perfect order before I can really devote time to writing. And feeling my writing isn’t good enough, because it’s not perfect. In this post, I’m going to talk about the first issue, and I’ll discuss the second one next time.

abstract
Here are some things I’ve learned: Life is messy. Creativity is messy. Muses come to you at the worst possible times. They arrive when you can’t possibly listen to them because your world will fall apart if you don’t finish the big work project/get another hour of sleep/re-grout the shower right now. They arrive when you’re tired and cranky and you don’t care about their amazing creative insights. They come to you straight from a Paris café on a sunny afternoon where they were just biting into the perfect tarte au citron. They arrive with crumbs still falling down their chins because they had a brilliant idea for you that couldn’t wait. They expect you to drop everything and listen to their inspirational comments.

Alternately, muses are good at vanishing. They disappear just when you want them the most. They start pouting and storm off right in the middle of a wonderful creative session. Or they suddenly have pressing business elsewhere and won’t stay, even when you beg. They abandon you, leaving you astonished because you thought things were going so well. Or they never arrive at all. They stop taking your calls and won’t tell you why.

And here’s the thing. If you want to create, you must create anyway. If you want to write or paint or sculpt or make music, you must write or paint or sculpt or make music in spite of everything. You must do it when your muse is acting up, and you must do it when you’re cranky, and you must do it when you’re busy.

Because if you don’t write, you’re not writing. If you don’t paint, you’re not painting. In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard said “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” If you don’t spend your days creating, you’re not spending your life creating.

Not to put any pressure on you or anything.

puzzle pieces
Something else I’ve learned—and it’s taken me years to truly understand this—is that creativity can take place in tiny bites. You don’t have to set aside big chunks of time to write a novel. You don’t have to complete a short story in one sitting. Or a poem. Even a haiku.

I once completed a series of stories by setting aside 15 minutes a day when I was working full time and freelancing on the side and felt swamped all the time. I began stopping at a sheltered bench or a hotel lobby every morning after my commute downtown. I wrote for 15 minutes before heading to my office. Once I got into the flow of this daily writing habit, I was amazed at how much I could get done in such a short time.

You can spend five minutes creating metaphors twice a week, spend 15 minutes working on your memoir another three days, write a couple of lines in your head once or twice in the shower. If you engage in these small moments of creativity most days, a flow begins.

Soon the metaphor about the grandfather clock slips into your memoir as a pithy reflection on your family’s tendency to eat breakfast food at dinnertime. The quick description you wrote in your head while showering becomes a narrative about the bully who harassed you on your first day of elementary school. Before you know it, you’ve written the first five chapters of your book.

It really does work. And your days will feel richer because you’ve dotted them with creativity, and forced your Inner Perfectionist to go away and leave you alone.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 2

My name is Sandy, and I am a recovering perfectionist.

I’ve been having a hard time finishing a blog post about perfectionism, and my husband has teased that it’s because what I’ve written isn’t perfect. But there may be more than a little truth in his joke. Because one of the negative effects of perfectionism is procrastination.

Perfection doesn’t exist. And if imperfection isn’t okay, what’s a perfectionist to do? Well, nothing, obviously. Or flounder around and never finish the imperfect thing.

chairs

I don’t have difficulty discussing many of my personal creativity-hampering issues on this blog, so why the problem now? I’m guessing it’s because a while back, I mentioned to a regular reader that I was planning on writing a post about perfectionism. She told me she was looking forward to hearing what I have to say, because it’s an issue she struggles with.

A reasonable reaction on my part would be to feel flattered she believes my thoughts on the subject could help her. Instead, my inner Perfectionist sprang into action, prompted by that innocent comment. She emerged from her dark cave, scorching me with her fiery breath and clawing at my Muse as she presented her list of demands:

  1. I must write the most inspiring words ever written about the debilitating effects of perfectionism on creativity.
  2. My post must be beautiful and meaningful and important.
  3. It must be good enough to enable anyone who reads it to eradicate their perfectionist tendencies forever and go on to lengthy, fertile creative lives with no negative blocks whatsoever.
  4. It must be PERFECT.

Is it any wonder I kept putting off writing a blog post about perfectionism, discovering other topics that suddenly seemed more interesting? And that when I finally did start writing it, I found myself continually distracted and/or writing around the subject?

dragon with fire

To make matters worse, my Perfectionist is sneaky. I didn’t consciously realize she was doing all this. Yes, I remember momentarily thinking “oh, I better write something really good, then” after the aforementioned comment by my blog reader friend. But I quickly forgot about it. Meanwhile, my Perfectionist was poking her head out of her lair, exhaling her unhealthy, fiery breath all over me while I went about my life, unaware of her damaging presence.

But I gradually began to notice her. My evasive maneuvers to avoid writing the post became clear to me. And, once I forced myself to start writing, my uncharacteristic inability to complete my thoughts brought the invisible Perfectionist into full view.

It’s been quite a battle wrestling that ferocious dragon back into her cave. How did I do it? By writing what you’ve just read. By confessing I’m not perfect—to you and to myself. By being willing to accept the run-on sentences and typos and imprefect grammar and less-than-profound thoughts that appear in my writing.

I do have more to say about perfectionism in general, and I’ll try to write something coherent about it soon. But I felt it might be helpful to share my personal struggle here first.

And thank you to that unnamed regular reader and friend who told me you were looking forward to my perfectionism post. Because the situation forced me to have an open battle with my lifelong nemesis, the Perfectionist Dragon, thereby weakening her just a little bit more. And, while I haven’t been able to write some magical perfect post that will eradicate your perfectionism, maybe you’ll feel a little better knowing my dragon’s just as big as yours.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler

I currently have a half-written blog post about perfectionism and its destructive effect on creativity. For some reason, every time I get back to it, I’m interrupted…hmmm…there’s that stressful life making things difficult again…

Until I can finish up what I have to say about the evils of perfectionism, I’m going to share a few words of wisdom on the topic from other creative people:

“A lot of disappointed people have been left standing on the street corner waiting for the bus marked Perfection.” —Donald Kennedy path on peat moor

“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again.”
—Julia Cameron

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”
—Anna Quindlen

“The maxim ‘Nothing but perfection’ may be spelled ‘Paralysis’.”
—Winston Churchill

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”
—Salvador Dali

“An artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing.”
—Eugene Delacroix

“Perfectionism is the enemy of creation…” —John Updike

Armed and Dangerous

Still riffing on yesterday’s challenge to turn a creative block into a character:

The minute she walked into my office I knew she was trouble. She had a pair of To Do lists that just wouldn’t quit. Longfemme fatale and persuasive like I like them. She leaned against the wall and pulled a tapered black pen out of her clutch.

I acted surprised, but she could tell I was expecting her. Ms. Always-Too-Busy was no stranger to me. She had obstruction written all over her, written as clearly as the words she was adding to the bottom of the second list: “Groceries. Vacuum. Pay bills. Work!”

I knew I should walk away, but there was something about this dame that always made me stay. I’d stay until she seduced me into crossing every item off her lists. I’d stay until my Muse stormed away, pouting. I’d stay until she left me spent and lying in a pool of my own neglected words.

Like I said, the dame was trouble. Trouble with a never-ending To Do List.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Sandbox Challenge #4: Transform Your Creative Blocks Into Characters

We all have things that keep us from writing. Or, more accurately, things we allow to stop our creativity. Lack of time. A nasty inner critic. Perfectionism. Stress. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Just plain old fear. The list goes on and on.

Here’s today’s challenge: Choose something that blocks you from creating and visualize it as a character. Then write something about him or her. It can be a description of the character, a poem, a metaphor, an action scene, a dialogue, a haiku, a 1-sentence memoir or anything else. Get creative!

Then post what you’ve written in the Go Wild! section of the Reader’s Sandbox.

racing against time

Here’s mine, in a somewhat Dr. Suessian style:

Too-Busy has a big red book
That tells me I have work to do.
Too-Busy arrives and takes one look,
Says “I’m sure glad I am not you.”

When I say “Wait! Let me create!”
Too-Busy stands and shakes her head.
When I say “No! My story’s great!”
Too-Busy points at my unmade bed.

Too-Busy comes when I awake.
Too-Busy comes when I unwind.
Too-Busy comes when I take a break.
Too-Busy won’t get out of my mind.

Making Peace with the Coppery-Breathed Anti-Muses

Climbing into my head when I wake in the morning can be like a trip to the oddball carnival. I’ll admit it: a parade of eccentric voices tends to ramble through my mind on a leisurely circuit of creative chatter. My Muse, characters from my stories, any number of strands from pieces I’m currently writing or considering. But the voices have assured me I’m not crazy. I’m just a writer.

Creative Daydreaming

My post Friday about my Muse led to some humorous remarks in the comments section about movie stars who could become inspirational muses. Rochelle Ritchie Spencer at Slacker Chick even blogged about it. Reading others’ thoughts on this topic got me thinking about the many voices in my head.

Of course my Muse inspires me, and my characters fascinate me as they come and go, often insisting on having creative input in my stories. But a darker strand of conversation takes place in my head simultaneously. The persistent, nagging voices of the critics, the detractors and the creative skeptics sure I’ll be unable to produce any writing worth reading.

In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott talks about these voices: “…your mental illnesses arrive at the desk like your sickest, most secretive relatives. And they pull up chairs in a semicircle around the computer, and they try to be quiet but you know they are there with their weird coppery breath, leering at you behind your back.”

I love this quote, but I have to say that my “mental illnesses” have never been accused of being quiet! They loudly point out every flaw in my writing and throw in a few personality faults for good measure. Even when they’re happy with my writing, they pessimistically insist the successful prose must be a fluke. An uncharacteristic moment of good writing I lack the chops to reproduce.

critic

They’re already forecasting the demise of this blog. I’m happy with what I’ve written so far, but my coppery-breathed critics insist it won’t last. “Really, Sandy, you know you’ve only got six or seven good ideas,” they screech in my ears with their shrill voices. “Maybe 10 at the outside. After you’ve written them all down in this little experiment of yours, you’ll quickly falter and become the laughingstock of the blogosphere.”

I have a theory about these voices. I believe they lack the qualifications for their current employment—but they can still be put to good use. Deep down, these critics and nay-sayers actually possess great editorial skills. Unfortunately, they’re notorious line-cutters. They always wind up at the front of the creative queue when they actually belong in the back. They belong far behind the Muse, the unformed ideas, the characters and every other voice contributing to the creation of a piece of writing.

The Creators at the front and middle of the line should be allowed to say anything they want, even if it’s childish, weird or downright shocking. Only once they’ve had free reign on the playground for a lengthy period of time should the critics be allowed to enter.

Stop Sign

So I’m posting this stop sign here right now. Aiming it at my critics, skeptics, creative atheists and all the other anti-Muses competing with the wonderful, lively circus of characters in my head. I’ll take it down now and then, when my Muse and his friends have finished their delightful dance in the sun. But only after they’ve filled the sandbox with their footprints.

Only then will I let the anti-Muse editors in and allow them to use their skills of judgment in a productive way. To sharpen the edges of my stories. To polish up any rough ideas. To finally work with my Muse instead of battling him every step of the way.

Copyright @ Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com


Download a Free E-Book! Click on the Cover Below for your Creative Bursts Workbook

And get fun 15-minute creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week

About Sandy Ackers

Sandy

Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach and Writer.

To learn more about Sandy, click here: About Sandy

Connect With Me On Facebook:

Meet My Muse

Click here to read the post discussing my relationship with my somewhat pesky male muse.

Inspiration in your inbox:

Blog Archive

Total Hits:

wordpress analytics
wordpress analytics

Share This Blog

Bookmark and Share
Add to Technorati Favorites
Writing Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

Copyright © 2009-2017 Sandy Ackers. All rights reserved, with the following exceptions:

Writers retain all rights to any comments, stories or other original work posted on this blog in the comments sections or the Readers' Sandbox.

Many of the photos on this blog are in the public domain. If you'd like to reproduce a photo, contact Sandy Ackers at the email address listed in the ABOUT section of this blog for information on whether the image is under copyright.

Reproducing, copying or distributing the writing on this blog without the express permission of the author is strictly forbidden.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

%d bloggers like this: