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Monday, September 22, 2014

Art and Fears

I don't post long rants because no one on a computer or phone reads a wall of text.

But writer Elizabeth Gilbert's compassionate wake-up call is worth it.
And I want to be able to find and re-read it every time I'm beset by doubts mid-project.


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The other day, a brilliant friend of mine let me read the first draft of a book she's been working on for years. It was wonderful. But that's not what I want to talk about. 

What I want to talk about is what happened AFTER I told her how wonderful her book was. She sent me a long email detailing all her fears about how bad her book actually is, and about how nobody will like it, and that it's overly simplistic, and critics will call it self-indulgent, and that I'm just being polite when I say that it's good.

 (To reiterate, her book is GREAT.)

Normally, I would have responded with a long, tender, compassionate letter — trying to convince her once again of her talents, and of my support and faith in her. But I was tired and in a hurry. So instead, I just wrote the truth.

 I wrote this: 

"Listen, honey — I read through all your anxieties and your fears here. And I just have to say something very bluntly: Your fears about your book aren't very interesting or very original! I can say this with complete authority, because they are exactly the same fears that I have, whenever I am about to release a book into the world. And I know for a fact that my fears are not interesting at all. (Like yours, my fears alway sing this familiar, droning old song: 'Your work is garbage, it will be criticized as self-indulgent, it's too simplistic, it has no value, nobody will buy it, your friends are only being nice to you when they say it's good, you just wasted a whole bunch of time for no good reason, you are done for and washed-up'). "

Moreover, I have it on good authority that these are exactly the same fears that EVERYONE who has ever finished a book (or created anything) feels. In other words, your fears are just regular old mass-produced, made-in-China, sold-at-Walmart fears. Nothing fine or precious or artisanal about them. So don't treat them like they're precious. 

"I realized this about my own fears a few years ago — that they are always exactly the same, and that they are always exactly the same as everyone else's, and therefore they are nothing special and actually just kind of boring. (I want to say to my fears sometimes, "Really? That's the best you can come up with? This old song again? REALLY — you're telling me once again that I'm not good enough? That my work isn't good enough? That's it? That's seriously the best you got, AFTER ALL THESE YEARS? Jeez, get some new material, dude.")

"So now I just come to expect those completely boring and unoriginal fears to show up every time I write anything, and I don't even pay attention to them anymore, because they never have anything new to say. They're just the neighbor's dogs, barking incessantly in the yard next door, blah blah blah. But they never bite. They can never escape the yard. They have no real power. So I just move ahead and do my work. There's that old Bedouin line: 'The dogs bark; the caravan passes anyhow.' Your caravan needs to pass along now on its journey, whether fear barks at you loudly or not. It's time. 

"Because here is what IS interesting and original: This book that you just wrote. And here is what else is interesting and original: Whatever is about to happen in your life next, when you send that book out to publishers. Because god only knows what will happen. Could be good, could be bad. We have no idea. Because the future is a mystery And mysteries — unlike fears — are always interesting. So let's focus on the interesting parts (the creativity and the mystery) and forget about the fear. Time to be stubbornly brave, and dignified in the face of any fate."

So that was my letter, and my friend said it made her laugh (which is good, because I was a little afraid it might make her cry)...and since laughter is good, now I'm sharing the letter with you all. In summation: Your creativity is fascinating, but your fears are not. (Spoken from somebody who REALLY knows what she's talking about — because she has the most boring fears in the world, and she does her work, anyhow.) Now go make your thing. ONWARD,

Elizabeth Gilbert

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