Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Losing and finding the center

"For many of us, sooner or later there comes a point where work gets hard and there’s no support at all from the outside world. That’s when you feel besieged. The fear of getting it wrong stops you."

The above quote comes from a post by Tricia Sullivan on the inner turmoil that can result from too much second-guessing and self-criticism.

And then there's this post by Michelle Davidson Argyle about being paralyzed by too much feedback.

And this one by Dawn Metcalf on not writing when life gets in the way, and the self-perpetuating negative cycle that can result: "I felt like I'd failed across the board, which didn't improve my mood or my ability to write. And that is the flipside of having a public voice and a private life--there is so much of our stories that cannot be told because while being a writer is public, being a human being is private."

Sometimes, a writer's mind is her own worst enemy. We need to be listeners, sensitive, attuned to our environments. We need critique. We need professionalism. Yet those are the very elements that can turn poisonous on us. And on top of any inner struggle comes a pressure not to admit it, not to reveal weakness. To be honest and vulnerable and creative while also having review-proof hides and boundless optimism ... Got all that? And can you juggle on a high wire, too?

I have always loved the way Anne Lamott approaches the writing life in Bird by Bird. She talks craft and practical matters, but she admits that the writing life is filled with inner battles, filled with apprehension, mind games, self-doubt, despair. Not only with those things--of course, there is joy, too, or why else even do this?--but she shows that you can feel all those things and admit it and still write, still publish, still live.

I hear tell that not every writer experiences this, and to those who don't, all I can say is: I'm happy for you, bless your heart. But the writers who do go through this don't do it to be precious. It's not because they've bought into some myth of the tortured artist. The more writers discuss this, the more we realize how common it is, and the more we learn to recognize where some of the pitfalls lie. When we find ourselves lost, we make finding the center again a priority. We know it's around here somewhere.


  1. Thank you for this post. I have a favorite quote that's been helping me (at least to laugh, if not get over my current mental battle). "If you have a bad thought about yourself, tell it to go to hell because that is exactly where it came from." Brigham Young.

  2. Juggle CHAINSAWS on a high wire. :)

    I have to say, I was so upset with the whole process and very much upset with myself, on the last WIP, the YA historical that now resides in a drawer, waiting for I couldn't tell you what (yet). And I did do some serious negative talking. What I'm finding now, as I work on the new WIP, is that maybe, JUST MAYBE, it was a good thing to have happened (rather than just an incredibly long waste of valuable writing time). Yes, it opened major doors to critical voices I hadn't really had to deal with before, but it also heightened my awareness of them. As I draft, I still hear all the criticism and the distractions and the doubts, but I am SO determined to not go where I went last time, that I'm finding myself much more forceful about pushing them away. I take them seriously, rather than just "oh, a thing that happens sometimes to writers," and I am fighting them. Hard.