This is the second half to last week’s post, “Take Yourself Seriously.” Because, let’s face it, there is a tendency among writers to take ourselves a little too seriously. Sometimes I think I’m going to grow up and look back at some of these blog posts talking about writing in this ethereal-holy-calling-of-unicorns way, and I’m going to sigh and say, “Geeez. Calm the crap down, Your Highness. It’s not bloody Shakespeare.”
Let’s talk about why we all seem to have bats in the belfry. The temptation to be a little nuts is understandable.
It’s an isolated, lonely business—which, hey, most of us like because we’re all neurotic introverts.
We must toe the line between self-hatred and egotism, since you need enough humility to improve and progress and enough confidence to push forward in the face of endless rejection.
Nobody actually knows what they’re doing, but everyone will tell you a different way to do it.
Because it’s such an introverted business, we tend to be really self-absorbed. As a result, praise makes us do this:
And criticism makes us do this:
Until all at once, these kind of emotional cycles are commonplace.
And then this friend steps in:
Followed by this friend:
So, fellow crazy-writers, I pass along the best advice I’ve heard on this subject, from Elizabeth Gilbert.
If you don’t have time to watch the whole video, here’s the best nugget that encompasses what she’s saying:
“We writers, we kind of do have that reputation, and not just writers, but creative people across all genres, it seems, have this reputation for being enormously mentally unstable. And all you have to do is look at the very grim death count in the 20th century alone, of really magnificent creative minds who died young and often at their own hands, you know? Somehow we’ve completely internalized and accepted collectively this notion that creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked and that artistry, in the end, will always ultimately lead to anguish.
In ancient Greece and ancient Rome people did not happen to believe that creativity came from human beings back then, okay? People believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons. The Greeks famously called these divine attendant spirits of creativity “daemons.” Socrates, famously, believed that he had a daemon who spoke wisdom to him from afar. The Romans had the same idea, but they called that sort of disembodied creative spirit a genius. Which is great, because the Romans did not actually think that a genius was a particularly clever individual. They believed that a genius was this, sort of magical divine entity, who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist’s studio, kind of like Dobby the house elf, and who would come out and sort of invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work.
So brilliant — there it is, right there, that distance that I’m talking about — that psychological construct to protect you from the results of your work. And everyone knew that this is how it functioned, right? So the ancient artist was protected from certain things, like, for example, too much narcissism, right? If your work was brilliant you couldn’t take all the credit for it, everybody knew that you had this disembodied genius who had helped you. If your work bombed, not entirely your fault, you know? Everyone knew your genius was kind of lame. And this is how people thought about creativity in the West for a really long time.
You know, I think that allowing somebody, one mere person to believe that he or she is like, the vessel, you know, like the font and the essence and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile, human psyche. It’s like asking somebody to swallow the sun. It just completely warps and distorts egos, and it creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance. And I think the pressure of that has been killing off our artists for the last 500 years.”
So—calm down. Stay sane. Separate yourself from your work. Take your job seriously, but not yourself. And have fun!