Writing, whether blog posts or novels or next month’s non-fiction best-seller, is essentially about exposure, and no one relishes that kind of vulnerability. (If you do, please tell me your superhuman secret.) Writing is more than putting words to paper, however. It is also about revising those words, and when we do that, there is something in the brain of a writer (maybe of everyone) that starts sending warning bells and sirens into the ether, screaming that those particular words in that particular order are Not. Good. Enough. no matter how many times they are revised. Thus, the editing process can quickly devolve into a debate about whether or not I, as a creative, or simply as a person, am indeed Good Enough.
The initial writing/creating process is one of flow, feeling, emotion, intuition, and ease. It releases the inner self to express, imagine, invent, dream, create. If this is not your experience, then you are perpetually stuck in editing mode, which is one of critical thinking, judgement, logic, accuracy, and, subsequently, doubt. The difference between doubt and shame is essential to understand, however, and as creatives, as humans, this is quite often our stumbling block. Anyone familiar with the wonderful Brene Brown knows what I mean.
Now, you may think I am over such obstacles, since I am an intuitive coach, since I am launching a novel into the world in a matter of months, and since I have an established business as a fine artist of various mediums. But the opposite is true, and for any writers or creatives reading this, you need to know that doubt is part of our process. Doubt is actually an essential part of being creative, in my opinion. Scouring your work to find errors, to see new possibilities beyond what is already there, while that inner critic/demon screams at you, IS part of the process. And becoming a healthier human being is also part of the process when we learn to wrangle that inner critic/demon to our use rather than our downfall.
When we hear that inner critic shouting “WHY would you ever think to let someone read that godawful sentence/see that piece of art/view your rough plan/hear your song track idea? This is shite!” we can politely say “Okay, Igor. But I LIKE doing this. And maybe there are some things to fix, to make it not as rough around the edges, and that fixing will make it okay. Maybe even great. And some people, maybe only a few, might like what I show them. Perhaps even love it. Maybe no one sees it but me. As long as I like creating, I am going to create. Thanks for the chat.”
This resolve is an essential part of the whole process. When we let that critic’s voice run away with our emotions, and the judgment becomes shame for who we are in the process rather than an impartial critique of the outcome, is where we enter dangerous territory. That particular voice ends the original thought diarrhea with “You will never be a writer/artist/architect/singer of any value. It’s not just your work that’s gross. YOU are gross.” If left unchecked, the inner critic turns into this shame monster, and it is much worse for those of us who have struggled with or continue to live with mental health challenges. Having a healthy image of self is essential to imagining, producing, and sharing your best work, and that healthy image is based entirely on what you choose to believe about yourself, while you apply it to your creations.
The creating and editing process is, at the end of the day, one of belief. Belief in the power of words, belief in the innate need for connection that happens through a well-told story or visual concept, and belief that there is an innate creativity in every human that can be shared and shaped in such a way as to make those connections. A belief that this creative existence, process, and output contains inherent dignity and value at every stage. That our mistakes, attempts, struggles, failures, etc, do not make us unworthy, untalented, or shameful. But because creatives often struggle with manifesting this belief, the editing process can be fraught with extreme anxiety, self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and vulnerability to both internal and external criticism.
That same power, and that same desire to connect emotionally, from writer to reader, from editor to the one absorbing the final story, means there is an overwhelming pressure to get it right. For writing, the editing process, specifically line editing, is essentially about ensuring the right word is in the right place. No—not just the right word. The perfect word. That every comma is not only grammatically proper, but also prose enhancing, making the story a beautifully crafted entity without the reader even knowing why they feel the way they do. This process is excruciating, and exhilarating.
Before I made it through the first draft of my novel, I had no idea that editing IS writing, not just integral to writing. If a writer is neither capable nor willing to move through the editing process, including learning how to wrangle those critical demons, they will never finish anything, and that is my biggest lesson from this whole process. Strangely enough, I learned this through being a visual artist.
The Intuitive Painting process taught me that no decision is wrong or bad in the creative world, and indeed in life. Starting with zero agenda for an outcome, and trusting the process, even when it becomes frustratingly messy and hopeless, helped me understand I don’t need to have control of everything or be precious about the work as it progresses. I just need to keep going. Because the paintings are done layer after layer, covering over much of what you already like in order to create areas that you love, until everything finally comes together in a sum much greater than its parts, I learned to let go, to strive for something great again and again, and trust that something better would be born only after the striving forced me past my fears that the inner critic was right.
I now apply the technique to my writing craft, as I never did before. It took me a long time to understand writing a sentence is not the final piece of work. Revising that sentence, layering and erasing again and again and again and again is what makes a sentence, and then a paragraph, into a beautiful piece of work. This editing, this letting go of the mediocre to allow something beautiful to emerge, is what the work really is.
Experiencing the editing process in relation to how I produce art has changed everything. When I first began sharing my art I was well aware that my inner critic/demon, whom I have since named Igor, had long been a loud, authoritative, utterly domineering force preventing me from being exactly what I wanted to be—an authentic person making connections with other human beings. I thought I had conquered Igor through making art, and indeed I wrangled him into a semblance of submission, but the beast of writing a book has been a whole other experience.
Now, when I hear Igor shouting that my writing calls into question my very right to show my face in public ever again, I know from my time in the artist’s studio that it is time to step away from the work for a moment, or perhaps even longer, to immerse myself in nature, my animals, uplifting conversation with friends, a beautiful book of poetry, or maybe just a snack and a nap. Igor, who can be a very hungry wolf, cannot get the attention he needs to thrive when I am feeding and nurturing a different, beautiful wolf inside of me. And when Igor finally slinks away to his cavern, I can return to the work, the editing of a particular paragraph or sentence, and I can doubt it is good enough while simultaneously delighting in the process of making it better. And though I know the work is also making me better, I can still believe that I was already good enough before I started.
And so are you, no matter how loudly your inner demons are telling you otherwise.
What struggles do you encounter as a creative? Are shame and doubt linked for you? Have you named your inner critic? Comment below or send me a message- I would love to hear from you!
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