how to create: just show up

I stumbled on this today, and, uh… whoa.

You should really watch the talk, because it is beautifully compelling (builds slowly at first, but keep watching). But the main takeaway is… maybe we should think about creativity differently. Maybe we should stop seeing it as something totally internal to the person creating it, and go back to the concept of incredible artistic creation coming from the channelling of an external force–a muse, the divine, etc.

Because that’s a little less pressure, right? We all know that creativity/inspiration is temperamental, and while this doesn’t mean there is no such thing as talent or skill or craft, it does mean that we should maybe accept that whether a creative endeavor ‘works’… is maybe not all on us.  Maybe by accepting that we are not in full control, creating will become less tortuous. Maybe.

What Elizabeth Gilbert takes from all this is that her job is not to sit down and produce genius. Her job is to show up and write.

I think I have three different posts about my personal history with and anguish over writing…. sitting in my drafts folder. It’s a sensitive subject for me, and I have a hard time talking about it without feeling like I’m just whining, or that I’m making a claim on writer-dom  that I do not deserve to make.

But long before I was a scientist, I journaled and wrote poetry and essays and sometimes fiction… and that was the first thing I ever aspired to be. A writer. In fact, being a novelist was my first career ambition.

I gave up on that idea a long time ago because for years, showing other people anything I wrote filled me with overwhelming terror. Because I was so utterly terrified of people’s judgement, because they wouldn’t be just judging my writing–they’d be judging me. I identified with what I wrote so strongly… it was too personal to put out into the world. I didn’t use to have my current policy on openness–I was very private about many things, particularly my deepest thoughts and desires, because I was convinced that I was Bad and Weird and Wrong and that if anyone got to know me TOO well, they’d hate me. I also was, and still am to some degree, a terrible perfectionist, and was sure that the small flaws in my work would reveal me to everyone for what I really was… stupid and worthless.

And though lots of therapy and time has helped, that anxiety about people reading what I write, and my over-identification with my creative work… those things got to feeling very hardwired over the years. To this day, I have a hard time physically sitting in the same room as someone who is reading something I wrote, and tend to do so shaking.

I may always have that anxiety, to an extent. It’s only natural, really, to be concerned about what people think about you, and I just seem to be biologically predisposed to being wound tighter than most. But I’ve slowly gotten better about not letting it control me, and I want to keep getting better.

And I think one thing that might help is not feeling so damn responsible for what I write, particularly in the case of the more creative things. I think I need to focus less on Being Amazing, and more on just… showing up.

6 thoughts on “how to create: just show up

  1. I don’t think I’ve seen the TED talk you mentioned (which is odd, because I watch them all the time) but I think I will. I tend to shy away from any mention of divine anything, but I’m sure this will give me a better perspective. (This is due primarily to my non-theism combating the day-by-day and institutional pressure to believe in a higher power. But I digress.)
    I appreciated quite a lot of the things you said in this piece. I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts – I say that both because it’s true, and because I hope provides affirmation in regards to your insecurities about sharing your writing – and I connected with a lot of what you mentioned.
    First, I also wanted to be a writer. I had forgotten about that until you mentioned your own aspirations. Then, it hit me. Or more, it knocked into me like a shoulder bump, a gentle reminder. Writing is so invigorating. And for people like me, and I believe like you, it’s something that is vital to our well-being. This has been a hard journey for me because often in school you’re required to either write creatively or in research. That is, they have specific assignments and it is rare that you are able to explore your own thoughts freely and with support. I personally think that NaNoWriMo should be attached to a writing course, but that’s just me. Yet again, I move away from my topic. Essentially what I’m saying is that I know that need to write and the fear of being rejected for your writing. This was particularly significant in my formative years, back in middle school when my best friend and I would write fanfiction. I wasn’t very interested in non-fiction writing then, so I felt constantly inadequate because she excelled at creative fiction writing and I seemed to have been left in the dust. I’ve now realized that my writing talents lie more so in essays and the like, but at the time it was one of my biggest insecurities.
    Second, there was one part that I identified with very strongly. You said, “I was very private about many things, particularly my deepest thoughts and desires, because I was convinced that I was Bad and Weird and Wrong and that if anyone got to know me TOO well, they’d hate me.” I didn’t realize such feelings in myself until recently, but after working with a therapist this spring I’ve come to understand a lot more about myself. What you said struck a chord in me, so to speak. I’ve never been one for insecurities, really. Being very intelligent has given me the ability, good or bad, to rationalize away of most negativity. I struggle a lot with being able to express myself truthfully, and rarely am I overwhelmed with emotions. (That has spilled over into my sexual experiences, but that’s a whole other issue.) Most of all, though, I am an introvert. The combination of my rationalization, intelligence, and introversion has created so much anxiety with exposing myself truly. Most people wouldn’t recognize it – I am very outspoken and “loud”, so it’s not easy to notice what I hide. I think this is a part of my personality as much as a defense mechanism.
    What I’m getting at is that although I don’t have to deal with as much of the anxiety as you discussed, I do understand that kind of insecurity and I appreciated you mentioning it.
    Wow, that’s a lot. Sorry for all the craziness in your comment box. I’m going to go ahead and post this before my brain catches up to my fingers and deletes it all.

  2. As a girl with 4 years of writing workshop experience (and 1 year of professional writing experience), I can tell you that physically being in the room with someone while they read your writing is ALWAYS nerve-wracking. Writing is an extension of yourself, and I can tell you there were times when I wrote poetry that felt more like I’d bled out on paper than simply written something for class. It’s natural to be defensive of something that came out of your head, that’s so YOU.

    However, receiving constructive criticism is a learned and practiced ability. I remember going into my first workshop and being TERRIFIED that, not only would everyone get to read your work—you had to read it OUT LOUD in front of the class. I still have difficulties not shaking all over when I read my stuff out loud. The combined fear of public speaking and being judged is a LOT for me to handle at once. Several times in classes, I erupted in hysterical nervous laughter, or came close to tears. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one so emotionally attached to their work.

    The more you allow others to read and critique your work, the better you get at putting your writing at a safe distance from your heart. And honestly, there’s NOTHING BETTER than getting a really excellent reaction from a workshop. It’s a wonderful feeling. And having someone else make suggestions and edits can really open your eyes and bring out the best in your work.

    Another great thing about taking a writing class is that you HAVE TO TURN THINGS IN. There were plenty of times when I was busy with life and other classes, and I just had to write something on the fly and turn it in. As a writing perfectionist, that was a difficult thing to do at the time. But as it turns out, being about to just “write it to turn it in” is an excellent ability to have. It helps you meet deadlines. It takes the weight of perfection off your shoulders and allows you to JUST WRITE without overthinking it.

    I like stream of consciousness writing exercises a lot, in order to get into the groove of writing without passing judgement on yourself. Start with a phrase from a book or poem and then just write WHATEVER comes into your head. It’s a really good way to get your juices flowing. Also, taping a piece of paper over your computer screen, so you can only see the line you’re currently writing, is a really good way to get things written without obsessively backtracking and changing things.

    I can honestly tell you, Keely, that I think you’re an excellent writer with a knack for breaking down complicated scientific ideas into bit-sized, easy-to-understand phrases. You also write beautifully and candidly about your own struggles and pain, and that is VERY difficult to find. (It’s something that I have an extremely hard to time doing. I tend to resort to humor to distract from the pain, rather than writing it out like you do.)

    Just by blogging, you’re putting your work out there for the world to critique. Which is brave. Of course, if you want to get better at handling other’s opinions and critiques of your writing, I’d suggest asking a few trusted friends to take some of your writing home with them, read it and add their comments, and then return it for you to read privately. This is a good way to start workshopping.

    1. Thanks Kait. I did take writing classes once upon a time, so I have some familiarity with workshopping. It probably would be a good idea to find some people to read and comment on stuff… I’d have to find some people though.

      1. Well, you’re always welcome to send me things! I’m crazy-busy lately (da boyfriend just moved in with me), but I can usually find some time to read and comment on things. 🙂

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