It starts out well enough. I open a blog, start some drafts, make lists of other drafts to start later, and then I write a few posts. I even do some writing for other websites; some I work with regularly, others only on occasion. Then I find that despite my best intentions and modest attempts, the posts are just not as forthcoming as I had planned. I’m not spewing out words that rival Hemingway or Salvatore or Tolkien. In fact, I’m not spewing out much of anything at all. In my head I have stories far superior than the surprise hit 50 Shades of Grey and I know bloody damn well I can write better than that ridiculous fluff. So what gives?
I don’t understand it because I want to write, in fact I have already written most of several posts and articles. I have many more in my head that I go through while I’m driving or soaking in the tub, or even just sitting on the porch watching the trees sway in the breeze. I have great moments of inspiration all the time, and I do mean all the time. Writing and ideas for writing have come to consume my thoughts. So much so that I’ve started jotting them down as quickly as possible because I can never seem to remember them, on such frail tethers as they are thanks to years of drugs and alcohol. I’ve also looked at a voice memo machine because it seems my best writing ideas come at a time when I actually can NOT write, such as while in the tub or driving.
So why, when I have so much in my head to write about, have I not written or posted very much? This is what I contemplated for months, and I think I figured it out. Yes, it really did take me that long. Did I mention the drugs and alcohol? These things are my thoughts, feelings, memories, inspirations, and imagination. While they’re in my head, they’re protected. They’re safe. They’re sheltered, and most importantly, not judged. They are a part of me, but once they leave the sanctity and safety of my mind, they’re subject to the all-too-often cold world. They’re open to ridicule and judgement. These things, these words are so connected to me in many ways, it can be painful to let them loose into the world and then sit back and let the harshness of people’s criticism wash over them. I would liken it to letting your child walk off into the world alone, but I have a feeling I actually wouldn’t be doing it justice.
Every memory that I transform into essay is a piece of me being copied out, every character that I create is a part of my psyche. And while artists of all kinds may claim to be open to constructive criticism, make no mistake, the defenses still come up despite our best efforts. Logically, realistically, I know that my writing does and may always benefit from the wisdom and suggestions of others. But taking such things in stride actually takes effort because, like anything you want to protect, the instinct to slap the shit out of someone who criticizes it is strong. It has to be gently pushed aside in order to grow and become better. Really, in order to actively create at all, you have to push those feelings back. Otherwise you end up like I am now, stifled.
And what can be even worse than verbal criticism? Silence. Can you imagine a painter having a show and no one shows up? A Broadway actor on stage and at the end of the performance no one says a word? A comedian who elicits nothing but hushed whispers from the audience? The lack of any response at all is as bad, if not worse than a criticism. At least with a criticism you have evoked some kind of emotion from the audience, but when you have nothing crickets you feel as though you may as well have written See Spot Run and saved the time and effort. But then if you express those feelings, you run the risk of being patronized and wondering forever more if the responses you get are genuine. And therein lies the conundrum and, I think, an issue that all artists struggle with. It makes me feel better if I imagine that all artists feel that way, I really have no idea if they do or not. But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it because misery loves company.
Sometimes I write something but don’t hit ‘Send’ or ‘Post’ right away, somewhat out of apprehension. Sometimes I hit it without giving it a second thought because I know that second thought may stop me. Kind of like rushing off to Vegas to get married right away because you’re afraid you might change your mind, only in this case I don’t wake up with a hangover and cheap wedding ring married to the androgynous Cirque du Soleil performer that fell in my lap at the show.
I think I know why so many writers or other artists drink or do drugs. It eases those inhibitions and makes it easier to bare your soul to the world without reservation. Oddly enough, I’ve been working on this very post for weeks. I’m hoping that by putting it out there it will help me to come to terms with the issues and be willing and able to write more prolifically without feeling the need to whine for attention or slap someone because they gave me the attention I didn’t want. Seriously though, constructive criticism is good. I do take it in stride. After I count to 10.