“The key, of course, is to measure yourself against yourself, not against others.” ~Victoria Nelson
I have just finished reading Victoria Nelson’s On Writer’s Block: A New Approach to Creativity. While the topic is closely related to Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles that I wrote a post about a few days ago, the two books couldn’t be more different. It’s not even that they disagree with one another; in many ways, they have a similar message. It’s the focus and the advice for dealing with it that is so different.
Victoria Nelson takes a highly psychological approach to writer’s block. She believes that all blocks come from our unconscious selves (who she believes are our true creative selves) being at war with whatever our conscious selves (or ego) is trying to make us do. She covers many different reasons why this happen. The many scenarios she describes remind me of the following quip by E. L. Doctorow:
“A writer’s life is so hazardous that anything he does is bad for him. Anything that happens to him is bad: failure’s bad, success is bad; impoverishment is bad, money is very, very bad. Nothing good can happen. Except the act of writing.”
While framed in an amusing way, this sounds much like the hazardous journey that she describes where there are so many different ways in which we may develop writer’s block from our subconscious and conscious selves being out of step. The challenge is always trying to figure out what it is that the subconscious is trying to tell us through the block in order to know how to deal with it. This is not nearly as easy as it sounds, unfortunately.
For me, though, it almost always comes down to the essence of the quote from the top of this post. It is only when we stop comparing ourselves to others, stop being the writers that we think we “should” be, and get to know ourselves well enough to fully be the writers that we are that we are able to thrive. This is true whether we are talking about genre, style, topic, money, fame, or any other aspect that may influence a writer’s perception of who she is and what she writes.
When we are able to allow ourselves the freedom to create in the ways that only we can with no expectations placed on the creation, that is when we are able to produce our best work. That is the place of true genius.
I am a long way yet from reaching that place. I am still struggling to figure out what my subconscious has to say and how it wishes to say it. I have still not figured out my idiosyncratic writing habits, my genre, my topic. I do know that so much of what I read rang true for me. So many of the habits and the hangups she describes as being those common to writers sound just like me. Every description of writers I’ve ever read has sounded like someone who must be living inside my own head.
I think it’s time I claimed it. I am a writer. I don’t know that I will ever make my living as a writer—and I’m learning to be okay with that—but I am a writer nonetheless. The very idea fills me with both joy and dread. Deep down, I can’t imagine anything I’d rather do. I also can’t imagine anything that is as terrifying. It sounds so much like a life of walking the high wire without a net. Still, I have to. I am drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
So now it’s time for me to face this seriously. To let go of all my ideas of comparison, of what I “should” write, and of how I “should” write it so that I can discover what I love to write and how I love to write it. I need to let go of the idea of whether my writing will ever get published and make enough to support me. I need to just write for the joy in writing.
Come to think of it, this philosophy describes well so much of how I am trying to live my life these days. Learning to measure my life, my choices, my Self against me and only me. With no comparison to anyone else. No attempt to fit myself into the mold that anyone else would like to squeeze me into.
As a writer and as a person, this is going to be a challenge, but one well worth pursuing with all my strength. I’ve finally determined that becoming fully me is what this journey is all about.