Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Avoiding the Inner Voice

There's this guy I knew way back when. Let's call him Jack Weinstein, which is appropriate since that's his name.

Jack was a year behind me at college and lived for a year in the dorm room next to mine. We were friendly, but not what I would call friends. As with other people with whom I was friendly-but-not-friends, Facebook has allowed us to reconnect in the virtual world for occasional glimpses into each other's lives. In the years since Plattsburgh, while I moved from journalism to public relations to sales, Jack became a philosopher. Seriously. He's a bona fide, published philosophy professor who writes a blog and hosts a public radio show called "Why?" once a month.

Just the other day, Jack dispatched through his philosophy-themed PQED blog a post that struck a chord in me. It was as though someone with a greater vocabulary, keener insights, more rapidly firing synapses, and a brain far less clouded by books like "Who Moved My Cheese?" decided to write an essay expressing my thoughts about the creative process and the inner voice that all too frequently seeks to crush creativity. It's easy to dismiss the inner voice that nags at you with unfounded fears and then berates you for having believed and acted on those fears. It's much more difficult to dismiss, however, when someone other than yourself drags that inner voice into the harsh light of day to lay bare just how insidiously harmful it can be.

Eight years ago, I realized two decades had passed since graduating from SUNY Plattsburgh and I had yet to fulfill my dream of writing a novel. Had I, or had I not, majored in writing? The only thing stopping me was fear of failure. To warm up to the daunting task, I started this blog. I figured if I couldn't write short essays about movies, parenting, candy, or clogged toilets then perhaps the novel was just a pipe dream. Fortunately, clogged toilets are great blog fodder. Is Ramblings of a Very Pale Man a great American work of living art? No. Did the novel I eventually get around to writing win a Pulitzer? Not by any stretch of the imagination. I never expected art, prizes, accolades or monetary windfalls. All I wanted was to find out if I was capable of accomplishing the task. The experience was so pleasurable that I wrote two more short books, introductory episodes in a series aimed at middle schoolers. Then, just as I finished drafting the third entry in the middle school series, something quite unexpected happened.

I lost faith.

When you lose faith in yourself, it's easy to blame other things for your lack of productivity. Busy work schedules, family responsibilities, the nasty political climate in the country -- anything becomes an easy scapegoat to avoid admitting the real problem lies within. After six years of writing blog posts and books for fun, it suddenly became a chore. And why? After the first year, people stopped buying my books on Amazon. The blog's tracking of visitors had plateaued. There were the occasional digs, as well, by dismissive people. No one other than me seemed interested in my writing. Perhaps all those people who weren't me were right to be disinterested. Who was I to judge my writings worth reading?

[NOTE: My Lovely Wife informed me, upon reading this post, that she misses my blog and that I am, and I quote, "a doodyhead." She would be correct.]

During the past two years, and despite having completed a first draft of that third book, I fell back into the tried and true, unfocused, fruitless endeavors of a nay-sayer. I started writing and outlining at least four different books without conviction or success, considered trying my hand at a screenplay, and entertained other lofty dreams when, in reality, what I wanted to do was write more silly blog posts and finish the middle school series. But, because no one cared about them, they weren't fun anymore. They were unrewarding, or so I thought until a few weeks ago.

Frustrated at my inability to move any project beyond a few chapters, I opened that third book in the middle school series and started reading. It didn't suck. It wasn't perfect. It needed some nips here and tucks there, but it didn't suck. Before I knew it, I found myself in full rewrite mode and enjoying it. How could I have forgotten how much fun creativity can be? That inner voice lied to me and I was stupid enough to believe it. It told me my writing didn't matter because it wasn't worth anything to anyone else when all it really needs to be is valuable to me.

When Jack's blog post about creativity titled "Maybe Your Work Isn't Lame After All" appeared in my Facebook feed, it was a perfectly timed validation of what I was already coming to understand. While his post presents a longer list of ways to assess the value of one's own work than I needed, since all I need is my own personal satisfaction as a contented hobbyist, the basic message was clear -- don't let self-doubt crush your creativity. That's what relatives are for.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a book to edit and a blog post about deadly apple slicers to write.


2018 Mark Feggeler