Monster on my shoulder

There’s a monster on my shoulder. It’s been with me a long, long time. It’s a mutt of a monster, part pride, part insecurity. It whispers mean, undermining things into my ear and convinces me constantly that everything I do is worthless, uninspired, something to be ashamed of. But I think I must love my monster, or want to hide behind it, or something, because I can’t seem to get rid of it.

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Over the weekend my sister and I were chatting, and she was telling me about her troubles, and I just had to wince with how much we struggled with the same issues. Her troubles are not precisely mine, of course, but the root causes are the same — lack of confidence, perfectionism and a helping of self-sabotage. I can see how our shared upbringing encouraged some of these things, but it makes me sad that neither of us have fully managed to overcome them. For her, it induces creative paralysis or a complete lack of desire to create. For me, I keep creating, but I constantly feel like I’m an idiot, flinging myself at a brick wall and not seeing that I’m never going to break it down. I’m always fighting the voice that says “why bother” and “you suck anyway.” That little voice has warped various teachings into “if you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.”

To which I say: screw you voice. I’m doing it anyway.

Slowly, slowly, I’m fighting through the shame of putting out something that isn’t the best thing anyone anywhere and anywhen has ever read. That sometimes isn’t even to my (horribly, impossibly high) standards. Part of that is learning that most people don’t seem to give a crap if every sentence is a shining jewel among sentences or not; if they like the story, or they like the characters, they’ll forgive a lot. That’s not an excuse to be lazy or sloppy–heaven forbid!!–but it is an excuse to stop being frozen by fussing and fussing over three words. Part of it is accepting that there will always be someone who will hate the story, who will think it’s not good, who will laugh at it, criticize it, mock it, belittle it and… I can’t do a single thing about it. And there’s no point worrying about it in advance. It may hurt when it happens, but if it gave me pleasure to make the story in the first place, well–all I can do is try to learn what, if anything, I did technically wrong, and try to improve. And it may well be that it’s simply not the right audience. That does happen.

Anyway, maybe eventually I’ll be “good enough” to make myself happy. But in the meantime I just have to keep working, and writing, and trying to get better, because that’s the only way to actually get anywhere.

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2 Comments

  1. Bravo! Keep on fighting the monster – it gets easier. I recognise a lot of what you’re struggling with, but I long ago decided to embrace the fact that the first version of anything I wrote was going to be rubbish. It HAD to be, so I could get it out of the way, and on to the rewrite, which will be better. And the third rewrite will be better yet. But you have to write the rubbish first. Otherwise, you’re trying to build a house by beginning with the roof.

    My Dad used to say, ‘You don’t win a coconut every time.’ Nor you do – but you learn how to aim better. You can’t please all of the people all of the time either – fact of life. If you try, you just twist what you do out of shape and end up pleasing no one at all.

    Write exactlly what you want to write. Please yourself, and then you’re likely to please all the people who like the same things you do. Accept that it will take several rewrites and refuse to obsess over irrelevant details. And good luck!

    Reply
    • Thanks so much! I am clinging to the hope that it gets easier. I’m really trying to accept that “first draft will be rubbish” thing–like you said, stop building the roof before the rest of the house! I also think a lot about sketching. In art school we were reminded often to work all over the page, to work loosely and everywhere first, and then tighten up, rather than just getting super focused on one area right off the bat. Otherwise, it was easy to end up with a perfect hand and a perfect face but totally out of proportion to each other, and/or in the wrong place, etc!! So now I’m trying to apply that philosophy to writing, as well!

      My Dad used to say, ‘You don’t win a coconut every time.’ Nor you do – but you learn how to aim better.

      I absolutely love this! So true!

      Sometimes I worry that there will be too few people who like what I like–but I guess if that’s how it is, that’s just how it is. I can’t worry about that. I want to tell the story, no matter what; I’ve learned that over the years, at least. So if it only appeals to three other people in the entire world–well it’ll be fun to reach them, at least!

      Reply

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