“Your historical monsters are the building blocks of your core negative beliefs … It is necessary to acknowledge creative injuries and grieve them. Otherwise they become creative scar tissue and block your growth.”
Julia Cameron – The Artist’s Way
Stephen King and Julia Cameron both speak, in their own ways, of creative monsters and the havoc they bring to the creative life. Creative Monsters are the people we let into our lives who shame us about our writing or who seed self doubt that renders us creatively impotent. If we have more monsters than creative champions in our life, it can be hard to keep writing.
King writes: “I have spent a good many years … too many, I think – being ashamed about what I write. I kept hearing Miss Hisler asking why I wanted to waste my talent, why I wanted to waste my time, why I wanted to write junk …. I think I was forty before I realised that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.”
By age forty King had sold millions of books, best sellers such as It, Pet Sematary and The Stand. It would be incomprehensible to believe that such a popular and successful author had been so susceptible to doubt and shame, if we hadn’t experienced the exact same thing ourselves.
We all have them, a monster or perhaps a whole crew who hang out in the recesses of our memories, on the periphery of our creativity, making us ashamed and doubtful of our talent.
How dare you write that?
You really think that’s good?
Writer – pft. Who are you kidding?
I’ve realised the idiom sticks and stones may break my bones ‘cos names will never harm me is a load of bollocks. Words do hurt and especially for writers (whose creative ‘mud’ is words) they leave an indelible print on our creative psyches. Like Cameron writes, they are injuries and they do need to be healed if we want to reach our potential, or even just begin to explore it. Creative Monsters are mud slingers and it’s time to take ourselves down to the creative river and wash away the dirt. I know I love the feeling of cold, crisp water coursing over my body and how you can’t help but feel refreshed afterwards – body and soul!
But how do you do it? How do you find your way down to the river?
The answer is simple. You need to start by ousting your monsters. To listen to what they have said and to understand how you’ve taken their nasty words and made them part of your creative reality.
I have had a number of creative monsters in my life, but the most influential of them was a Writer in Residence I consulted during my first year at uni. I was 18, passionate about writing and excited at the prospect that the In-Residence program offered … to grow myself as a writer. We were asked to bring along a piece of our work to the first session, and I took along a story called And Juliet Met Romeo in Hell. He looked over my work, and then point blank told me that I needed to go out and live in the real world. I was naïve and people didn’t really act like that out there. And that was it. I was mortified and shattered. I wonder now if that guy ever watched Underbelly?
I don’t deny that I was naïve – I’d spent almost all of my education in a Catholic high school and I hadn’t been adventurous as a teenager. But I read through his words and heard that I was an imbecile, and that I had had the audacity to write. What’s more, his words were instant creative castration for my vulnerable muse.
From that moment onwards, my passion for writing waxed and waned. I created projects that could never be completed, boxes and boxes of first chapters that I would never show anyone. I felt a fraud – I was waiting tables and working crap jobs because the only career I had ever wanted was writing, but I couldn’t turn up to the page. I focused so long and hard on ‘going out and living in the real world’ that I never made time for writing. Part of me could never make it a priority in my life.
What I still shudder at was that I was so willing to take his words on board. Thankfully now I understand how to deconstruct criticism and to know the difference between the constructive criticism of your work and a cheap personal shot. (I encourage all writers to find time to understand how to deconstruct criticism.)
Excavating my creative shame and doubts over the past two years has allowed me oust guys like that Writer In-Residence and to begin to heal the injuries they caused, wash away the mud and the blockages to my will and confidence to write. As a consequence I have become alive and brilliant as a writer for the first time in over a decade. I’ve let go of the notions that I’m not smart enough, nor worldly enough to write. I have the audacity to write badly, and feel OK about it. I have the confidence to try new things. And I’ve reclaimed the thrill; the pure, unadulterated love of the process of writing.
Who are your creative monsters – today is your opportunity to expose them? What was the shaming charge levelled at you? What self doubts did they seed? How has it fashioned the way in which you perceive yourself as a writer and your ability create?
Original Artwork “Mind” by Danae Sinclair
This was originally posted at Write Anything on Monday 16th February 2009.