Can’t Say No

A parade of negative voices marches through our lives every day. Whether we have neglected to fix the leaking refrigerator, or forgotten to call the gutter service yet again, we are always after ourselves to be better. So it is not surprising that lurking on the underside of every sentence you write is a negative opinion of that sentence.

You have probably experienced the strange progression of beliefs we all entertain about our own work. At first you’re convinced the sentence you just wrote is pure genius, the best thing you ever composed. The next day, while editing, it seems more pedestrian, and a flicker of doubt appears: How did I think that was so great? A month later, while reading over a chapter, possibly because you’re in a negative head anyway, you see the sentence and feel the urge to strike it out altogether.

The same duality that allows perfectly harmless members of society to create the most vile serial killers in their thrillers also operates in this very small, private sphere. In finest Shakespearean style, our greatest strength, volatility, is also the source of our greatest weakness. I suppose writers should be glad that the only destruction they wreak is on their poor, defenseless words. I have, in fact, often evinced the opinion to friends that if everyone became creative, violence in society would cease. The volcanic eruptions we all feel would merely loop back on ourselves.

You must remain cognizant, however, that when you write, you are creating that feedback loop. The same voice that urges you to get up every morning at an ungodly hour can also turn on you and say, “You fool, give up. You can’t write.” You cannot give in to thoughts created at the low ebb of your subconscious cycle. They are going to happen.

Creativity is atavistic to a certain extent, but you are a member of a highly evolved civilization in which you are trying to participate as a writer, one of the highest achievements any person can attain. So don’t do it. Don’t permit wholesale destruction of what you yourself have created. Just wait for the next time you revisit that sentence.

Exercise: Not everything an author writes is gold, however. When you feel doubt about what you’ve written, go granular. Examine a single sentence and ask yourself what you don’t like about it. Using the same words, try to invert the structure. That construction, such as placing an adjective first in the sentence, will probably look flowery and affected, but now ask yourself: have I made the right choice for that adjective? Could you convert the adjective into the verb? By the time you are finished resolving that small puzzle, the black cloud that descended over you earlier may have parted to allow light to shine through.

“Writing is an act of creativity. You do it because it opens a wellspring of thoughts and feelings inside you that you didn’t know you were capable of expressing so well.”         
—Albert Einstein

Copyright @ 2019, John Paine

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