How often do you find yourself talking to yourself about yourself?
“I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“I’m so much better than he is.”
“She’s so much better than I am.”
“Why did she say that about me? I don’t think she likes me very much.”
If self-scrutiny is a frequent activity in your brain, you might find it helpful to change that habit. It’s useful once in a while to reflect on ways to do well and be better. But endless evaluating will quickly drain your enthusiasm.
You may not think specific thoughts like these, but you may have vague emotions of worry, gloom, and fear around your creative work. Visceral self-doubts are tougher to deal with, because you are not simply arguing with habits of thought. You are dealing with deeper emotional connections. Wy not spend some time thinking of ways to break the routine of endless evaluating?
One of the toughest things for a person with an artistic inspiration is to begin work on it. If you’re a writer, a wonderful idea for a new novel can feel like a new romance or adventure, bringing waves of elation and anticipation. But that novel inspiration comes with no guarantees, and there is no automatic process that will get the book written. That novel idea might lead to many months of writing and rewriting only to realize that you have twelve and a half chapters that simply won’t turn into anything. Why risk such failure? Why do something that could be a huge waste of time and energy?
One response to the doubting is, “Well why not?” If you’re going to write, you have to just write and write. Even the most skilled novelist must throw away lots of chapters and even entire novels that just won’t fly. You have to do lots of writing–including lots of disappointing writing–before you can learn to do some good writing. You can ask lots of questions about your ability and inexperience and what the big world thinks should be in a novel. You can spend a lot of time wondering if you have the right set of qualities and talents that make up “the successful writer.” Or, you can put the questions aside and start writing to see where it will lead.
Any kind of creative work has a huge element of plain old “work” in it, including things that are mundane, tedious, and difficult. When life demands that you dig in and get some work done, resist the boredom and discouragement. Keep practicing that music, keep revising and editing that poem, keep working stroke after stroke on that painting. It may be boring, it may be discouraging, but the path demands that you put in many long hours of sweat and stubborn focus. During those dull, hard steps in your work, you will be tempted to doubt yourself. “Am I good? Is this worth anything? Why is it so easy for others?” Trust the path, and get the work finished. You won’t know what the finished project will look like until you actually have it done. Why not throw yourself into the work till it takes you to its completion? Why not try to find fulfillment by losing yourself in the task for long stretches?
Be kind to your artistic self. Treat yourself the way a loving parent treats a child who is learning something new. Be supportive, objective, calm, and friendly toward yourself. Take yourself for a walk when that kid is having a bad day. Maybe treat that kid to some ice cream or play a game together. A child shouldn’t have to face endless scrutiny, worrying if her parent will disapprove yet again. Your artistic self needs that same kind of encouragement and guidance. That positive energy often does not come without some intention and effort. Wy not spend some time thinking of ways to replace habits of endless evaluating with habits of kindness toward yourself ?
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