Every so often, an artist of whatever medium needs to stand back and evaluate their work. Is this project work pursuing? Have I achieved the goals that I set out for myself in this project? Is it good enough?
Is it even good, at all?
Yes, eventually those nagging little doubts will begin to creep inexorably into the back of your mind, tickling at your ego, your vanity, your sense of self-worth, and you will find yourself starting straight into that wall between where you are and where you want to be.
A big wall.
A big, brick wall.
A big, brick wall with a sign on it, just for you:
No matter how much talent you have, no matter how many times you have completed a project to acclaim (or even something as simple as “That’s pretty good”), no matter how much you have in “sales,” every project brings with it those same challenges, those same doubts, that same sense of starting over, of having not proved yourself worthy.
And that little voice in your head starts to whisper: “you’re not that good, you know…”
And then that wall, with its one word admonition for you and your paltry attempts to create:
There are many reasons why we find ourselves in front of this wall, looking at that word, and hearing the whisper of doubt—of ourselves—in our minds.
Lack of previous success in a similar project, perhaps.
Too much success, too soon, perhaps, with unrealistic expectations for this new project.
Or, if you’re just starting out, that wall is there simply to stop you, for no other reason than that it can.
Because you’re afraid.
We can be afraid for various reasons, I suppose. While I will not deign myself capable of identifying and analyzing other artists’ fears, perhaps I can, in some small way, help my fellow artists by looking at my own.
Because before this wall is where I find myself now.
And I am afraid.
Truth be told, I have been afraid for some time. How long?
Let’s see…I’m 43, so …..mumble…mumble….carry the 2…….
Okay, that’s probably an exaggeration by a year or two, but you get the idea. Fears develop early, and they can affect areas of our lives that we cannot possibly foresee when we’re 10, 20, 30, or even 43.
Not unless we’re really willing to look at them and ask: Why?
What am I afraid of?
I suppose that this is the ultimate question that I have to answer, but I really think that I should start by looking at the effects of the fear, of how it is affecting my art, and then work backward.
I’m a writer. I love to write. I have worlds and characters in my head that need to escape, to be put upon the page and shared, if not with a large audience, then at least with the universe, so that they do not stay trapped inside.
But I stop myself from writing. Call it writer’s block. Call it whatever. But I seem to continually hamstring myself whenever a project really gets going. I am, simply, afraid to find out how these things will be accepted by others. Are they as good outside my mind as within? Can I truly string together a compelling series of words that can impart a feeling onto the reader.
Sure, I can throw out a cute turn of phrase, but can I write?
Am I as good as I think I am?
Can I be become as good as I think I can be?
Great questions. Ones that have haunted me since I decided to share the shortest of shorts with actual people, and not simply keep them to myself.
But why? What made me afraid? Why am I this way?
I actually know the answer to this, and it is really very simple. But as I said above, these fears form early, and they stay, sapping our strength and our will, and we can, given time, grow too weak to fight them.
My fears started in elementary school. Not the athletic kid, not popular, just there. And, as I think back on it, as a child I heard words applied to me that, while seeming encouraging, actually had the opposite effect on me.
“Mark could do so well, if he just applied himself.”
Sounds good, right? But as a child, don’t you always think you’re working hard in school? Doesn’t this sentence, in light of that, really sound like, “Mark isn’t good enough.”?
So, I made it through K-12, eking by, and graduating by the skin of my teeth (but that is a whole other story).
Once I decided to go to college, however, things changed. I was told that my insights were good, and my writing was excellent, that I really had talent.
But those words from my youth keep echoing in my mind, and I stack myself against those around me, and think, if they’re being told that, too, then how good can I really be?
Fortunately, such encouragement was enough to stave off surrender to the fear, to prevent myself from seeing the wall and simply saying, “Well, that way is blocked. What now?”
For a time.
So, I continue to plug along. A couple of University-level publishing credits notwithstanding: nothing. No interest in any shorts, a couple novel rejections….
It’s basically impossible to publish right out of the gate. Keep at it. Keep submitting. Keep writing.
But the voice. The fear.
Then I look at some of what is out there, and I think “Why not me? This stuff is terrible.” I edit for a publisher and I think “My writing is as good as this.”
So, the belief that I can do better squares off once more against that voice, that fear, in a battle of wills for the future of my art.
For my soul.
Furious writing, perhaps a rejection, or a dead-end storyline, and the voice returns.
And I scream inside, hiding it from the world, along with those stories and characters that I can’t release.
Like an asylum in my mind, the inmates beg for their freedom, promising that they will be good this time. That people will accept them. That they’re okay.
But always, from the deepest levels, the screams. Those cries of anguish from the dark recesses, where the fear lives, and will never die.
And so it goes on, that battle of wills. The writing continues, the wall persists.
But I have not yet turned away.
The battle is far from over.
I have hope for a couple of submissions. It is that hope that keeps me writing, however slowly, however erratically.
It is my Hope that might someday conquer that Fear. That might one day tear down that wall, with its monosyllabic weapon of doubt.