Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Writing Disease

The definition of our illness, or its chief symptom, seems to be related to bi-polar disorder:
Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder, historically known as manic-depressive disorder, is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a category of mood disorders defined by the presence of one or more episodes of abnormally elevated energy levels, cognition, and mood with or without one or more depressive episodes. - Wikipedia 
We allow ourselves to be consumed by self-doubt. We build a fortress of self hate so high that our only rescue is the opposite in extreme. Ebullient, childish, adoration of our literary genius.

Do any other professions punish their aspirants so cruelly? Are all artists prone to waves of self hate and delusion of grandeur? Maybe so.

Are these symptoms by-products of the writing disease or the fundamental cause?

I believe if I did not at time think myself brilliant, I may never suppose anything I write worthy enough to put to paper. You have to love your words enough to achieve a temporary blindness of judgment. You must fight away the demons of self-doubt, those slinky, seething creatures whom you befriend in your self-pity rise up to meet you, nay, tear you down in moments of artistic longing. They whisper all the nasty things you've ever told yourself, every painful and seemingly truthful fault that, in a moment of despair, you let foolishly pass your lips. They wait for you to reach the exctasy of inspiration to attack, and their assaults become violent the more you open yourself to the possibility of their being true.

But there is a way to defeat them.

Look all your faults. Know them well. Accept them and move on. In doing that you have defeated them. Self-doubt is the scariest, most dangerous adversary you will ever face. It is a poison made of your weakest moments, your darkest fears. If you can see your faults and say, "Yes, but I go on," you have allowed yourself the opportunity to fail, to be imperfect, and try again. Once you've defeated them you will be able to recognize any foe you meet along the path of your journey -- because in their faces you will find the familiar gleam of your own fear, and you will be able to say, "Yes, but I go on," and nothing will stop you.

Writing is a profession of imperfection. We are not pointe-perfect ballerinas, you can not pitch a no-hitter in the literary world. Our endeavors will always strive for perfection and fall short. There will always be a better word, a more perfect phrase, a more syntactically-sound sentence. Perfect prose is the product of robots. Writers are flesh and blood. Writers are human.

This humble scribe believes that it is how you break the rules that defines your voice. It is in your failings as a writer that you become a distinct light in the fog. The closer you get to perfection the higher your mastery; of course. But true mastery is knowing the rules well-enough to break them.

A writer who has learned to manage their disease is the one who can navigate the balance between striving to be technically proficient and being true to themselves. There are no rules when it comes to voice. If it feels right to you, if in your gut you have found the way to express what you are trying to say, than you are right. Authenticity above all things.

The writing community is a vicious one. Like most people with a disease, we hate the reflection of our faults in others. Don't listen to critics who don't have your best interests in mind. Jealousy is an ugly thing. Find a support circle (writing group, class, workshop) and while receiving feedback listen to the words that sound most true. Listen to what is useful and forget the rest. Don't let fear of what other people say hold you back.

In my younger more insecure days I convinced myself I wasn't a writer. I thought, "How can I call myself a writer if I'm not published?" I believed I couldn't be a writer until someone elsetold me I was writer. I was preventing myself from doing what I loved, because of the fear of what other people would think.

It was a self-fulfilling prophesy. I wasn't a writer. I allowed my own self-doubt to paralyze me from doing the one thing fundamental to all writers; Writing!

All you have to do to be a writer, is write. All you have to do to write well is practice. All you have to do to be the best possible writer you can be is to allow yourself to fail, to learn from those failures and still say, "Yes, but I go on."

Be kinder to yourself. Accept your weaknesses, explore them, endeavor to improve. You have to recognize the symptoms of your disease so you can manage them. It's the only way to live with the writing disease. There is no cure.

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