Can’t Say No

A parade of negative voices marches through our lives every day. We have neglected to fix the leaking refrigerator, or forgotten to call the gutter service yet again. Such concerns seem humdrum, yet they are revolving in the same subconscious swirl from which you pick out your bon mots. The process of creativity is opening yourself up to the entire bombardment of thoughts in the hopes of making order out of chaos.

Lurking on the underside of every sentence you write down 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 it’s 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, reading over a chapter, possibly because you’re in a negative head anyway and can’t get start on the new stuff you know you should be doing with that free time, 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. I know that scientists are making advances in parsing how the brain operates mechanically, but I don’t know how they mean to explain why a person can curse at having to stop short at a red light, and then beam with delight when a toddler carrying Tigger crosses in front of him. That paternal fondness exists within the same corporeal shell as the monster who wanted to rip out the stoplight by its roots. In finest Shakespearean style, our greatest strength, volatility, is also the source of our greatest weakess. 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, in some fashion, violence in society would cease. The volcanic eruptions would start and 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 (at least in my book). So don’t do it. Don’t permit wholesale destruction of what you yourself have created. Just wait for the next toddler to walk by.

Exercise: Having made this plea, I am more aware than most that not everything an author writes is gold. 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? Or, is the adjective fine but the verb is inert? 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 a few rays to peep 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 @ 2023, John Paine

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