Yes, I have a whole committee. They are a noisy crew, and lately, as I question whether to dive into the RE-writing phase of my manuscript (a memoir? a work of fiction based on my son’s life?), The Committee has been particularly vocal. I know they’re there to protect me from looking like a fool (thank you), but they also prevent me from taking the proverbial leap.
Most recently, they’ve been holding up 8 x 10 glossies of already published writers that I know and/or love and saying, “First, of all your headshot is going to require lots of touching up. You are not and have never been the prettiest girl in the room.” These committee members do not mince words. “And second, you’re just not as good a writer as they are. Period. End of discussion.”
“Uhmmmm….” I respond weakly. Because, damn it, what they’re saying has a ring of truth to it. Is it THE truth? Is it A truth? Of course, I’m sucked in and believe their every word. And then, because I have a J.D. after my name and can’t help myself, I gather the evidence to present to The Committee to support their argument.
Exhibit 1: There’s Julie. Someone I know personally. We’ve been in writing classes together. We follow each other on Facebook. I have praised the honesty of her writing and she has said nice things about mine. Her first book was published last year. As she shared the details of inching closer and closer to the publication date of her memoir, I felt myself caught up in the excitement of knowing someone who was actually getting her work out there.
When I finally made it to one of her readings in a small Piedmont bookstore, and read her beautiful book, I was horrified to learn that the excitement and vicarious thrill had morphed into an ugly jealousy. “Why her and not me?”
Well, for one thing: She. Did. The. Work.
The jealousy quickly slipped under cover of self-loathing. I rested there for a while as her book continued to get the kudos, recognition and great reviews (including the New York Times, for God’s sake), that well-written and thoroughly-worked material gets.
As opposed to the pages and pages of puke/vomit/spew I’ve managed to pull out of me and commit to paper. Do you see how good The Committee is at doing its job?
Then, my dear Julie posted on Facebook how not even being published, and having it received so lovingly and generously could ward off yet another bout of depression.
And I felt like a heel. Like the scum that I am for not being 100% in her corner. But even worse than that: for not being in mine.
Exhibit 2: That same week, Elizabeth Gilbert, whom I adore, and whose books I adore (“Eat, Love, Pray” and “Big Magic” – just to name a few), came out to the world about being in love with her best and dearest friend, another woman, obviously breaking up her marriage to her husband in the process. Not only that, but her new love has been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and this was part of the catalyst for her decision to turn away from husband and towards this woman because damn it, life is short, too short to not be honest with herself about what it is she is actually feeling no matter how the world may judge her. Such big courage!
But my first small-minded thought was, “Shit! She’s going to write her next book about this and now my story (about falling in love with a woman, leaving my husband, blahblahblah), which happened FIRST, dammit, is going to be seen as an Elizabeth Gilbert copycat wannabe and I might as well let her tell the story because she’s tried and true as a master storyteller and bestseller writer and her books get made into movies and…
Who am I?
[Yeah, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to working myself into a frenzy of writer’s block. The Itty Bitty Inner Critic Committee has me well trained.]
I have managed to calm myself down with the notion that we each have our own unique story to tell and our own idiosyncratic way of telling it. So hang in there, Celenia. Keep writing. Become a better writer than you already are by tackling that RE-writing project. Chunk it down to small, manageable pieces. Get support. Know that it’s OK not to be Elizabeth Gilbert or David Foster Wallace or even my sweet friend Julie. It’s OK.
There’s room for all our voices.
P.S. Get Julie Barton’s beautiful book, Dog Medicine about her struggle with depression and how her dog, Bunker, saved her (and so much more).
Celinia, I have been reading your blog posts with attention and care. Your sharing of your cancer experience gave me a a catch in my heart, for you and every painful, scary, miserable, hideous bit of your journey this past year, and for all of us in our frightening vulnerability and our surprising strengths as human beings. Thanks for your courage in sharing so authentically.
And indeed that is one of your special gifts as a writer, your authenticity in dealing with the good and the horrible, the petty and the profound, the small daily observations and the big global issues.
Your latest blog about the inner voices that stop us from writing is something that resonates with me, and probably most writers. It is good to flush it out and lay those voices out in the air – it puts them into perspective and may make them shrivel and shrink…. lose their power. …. I love writing so much, the creative part and the revision work too, and when I am caught up in the whole process I am completely oblivious to the negative self doubt of my mind. However, when it comes time to put my writing out there, to share it, I am then consumed with the voices of my insecurity, the I’m Not Good Enough voice: my brother’s critical appraisal of my abilities, my poor spelling and punctuation and grammar struggles, the overwhelming body of writing out there most of which I deem to be better than mine.
And, of course, there is the What Will People Think voice. Something I never think about when I am caught up in the creative spirit and fervor of writing itself, that WWPT voice jumps in on me when it’s time to publish or share my writing – things like, What will my dear revered Uncle Art think of me writing a sex scene? Or by contrast – Will young people think I am not hip enough? Will my peers and my brother think it’s mediocre? Will a scholarly reader think it is poorly written?
But I have been working to free myself from those voices, both the I’m Not Good Enough voice and the What Will People Think voice. I don’t want to go through the rest of my life (and the years are getting shorter and shorter) being bound and gagged by those voices. I think I’m making progress in overcoming them, to acknowledge that they are my companions but that they won’t hold me back. I have also moved to a state of mind where how many people buy my book is not important to me – I am not interested in spending time promoting. I just want to write, revise write, revise, edit (and do all of that about twenty times at least) and then self publish and move on to the next book. I’ve had a career. Now OI want a passion.
However, I will acknowledge that it is a daily ritual – to work with the negative Voices, to call them out for what they are – Limiters!!
Go for it Celinia. You not only have a powerful story to tell (many, in fact), you have a great gift to write in a way that draws the reader towards you to want to walk beside you. Have you ever stopped to think that others might be in awe and intimidated by your writing ability?
And by the way, I would say that half of being “successful” or “productive” as a writer, is creative writing ability, but the other half is persistence/diligence/endurance, and a great editor!
Further BTW, this pep talk is as much for me as it is for you. I just sent my first novel to Createspace for printing, hopefully to be launched this November.
Keep Writing! C’Anna
C’Anna Bergman-Hill CAnnaBH@aol.com Cannabergmanhill@gmail.com 510 861-2358
“The fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world in spite of history.” Derek Wolcott
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C’Anna, thank you for your feedback and encouragement and revelations about your own process. I know that the Inner Critic is present (and oh so willing) in every creative heart and mind, and I believe that pushing past it (or, as in my case: them) is worth the battle.
Smash the Committee!
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Celenia – Just wanted you to know that I bought Julie’s book. So you can tell her she owes you coffee for getting her a sale. 🙂 Someday I hope to buy yours.
Karen, I just saw this (June 2017) and wanted to say thank you. I will tell Julie I got her a sale, and I promise to announce whenEVER I get published!