Thursday, August 6, 2009
The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is...
Kathryn at Tender Graces asked this question today-- Who are you? How do you label yourself? And how do you validate yourself about what you do? Great topic, Kathryn!
This is a question that comes up with my students over and over. And to be honest, it's one that rears its ugly head with me as well. Students who struggle for years with their own writing wonder if they'll ever get published. I wonder if I'll find the level of success I want. It's easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves, our careers, our publishing advances with others. After all, most of my friends are writers. Published, unpublished, I've found that the way success looks on the outside doesn't always match what the writer feels on the inside.
One friend talked about making the New York Times for the first time and being elated. For a minute. Then she started to worry how long she'd stay there. Would her next book make it onto the NYT? And if it did, would it move up the list? Would she feel like a failure if it didn't? These fears are really no different from the ones unpublished writers have. Will I ever sell? Will this rejection be better than my last one? And if I win this contest, will it make me feel like a writer?
The line that we draw in the sand as our measure of success shifts constantly as we take steps toward our goals. We redraw the line and erase the one behind us. But why can't we be happy about our successes? Is it just human nature to forget what we've accomplished in favor of driving ourselves forward?
But here's what I know. Spending time worrying about things out of our control like publishing, sales figures, book lists and reviewers will only keep us from what we're really meant to do: To Write. Worry keeps us from putting our butt in the chair and doing the work. Fear freezes up creativity. It is the bogey-man of artistry. Whether you write, paint, compose, or do anything that fulfills you, Fear's only job is to stop you in your tracks. Most often, it comes in the form of small negative voices-- maybe the naysayers in our past-- who chip away at our confidence. But all we have control over is what we do. If we paint, we paint. If we write, we write. No one can take that away from us. And it cannot label us. Only we can know who we truly are.
And now a word from my Id (as in the Freudian neuroses to whom this post was really directed.) "That was very enlightened. But can we just readjust this sand line here a smidge?"
You see sometimes, I need to listen to my own advice. Thank you.