I’ve been rereading (for about the twentieth time) one of my favorite books on the pitfalls of writing, IF YOU WANT TO WRITE, by Brenda Ueland.
This gem of a book was published in 1938, but every word is as relevant and inspiring today as they were then, and they’ll be just as powerful in 2038. That’s because Brenda tells the truth in every sentence, and the truth never loses its freshness.
Writing is difficult—as every writer likes to tell you—and frightening. It has been both of those things for me. That’s because, like so many people who have tried to write, or do anything creative, I have had my share of creativity squashers around me trying to snuff out my desire to express myself.
As Brenda says, “The English teacher who wrote fiercely on the margin of your theme in blue pencil: ‘Trite, rewrite,” helped to kill it. Critics kill it, your family. Families are great murderers of the creative impulse.”
The result is that writers, virtually all writers, at least some of the time, become anxious and tight and terribly afraid. When you expect to get figuratively slapped every time you reach for a pen, you become hesitant, maybe you even go into hiding, taking your writing talent with you. I have done this many times, abandoned my writing and, as a result, disappeared from myself.
According to Brenda, the best way to duck the murderous hand of criticism is to surround yourself with people who protect you from it, who love you and appreciate you, who think you are very interesting or funny, and who truly take you in. These are the ones who say in words or through facial expressions, “Tell me more. Tell me all you can… Let more come out.”
If you have a few of those people in your life, you are very lucky. But if you don’t, I have another suggestion: find a community of writers, or painters, or pottery makers, or artists of some other kind, and hang out with them. These will be people with both imagination and understanding, who probably also got slapped by the hot hand of criticism.
About 15 years ago, I discovered such a place at The Writers Room in Greenwich Village. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank the kindhearted urban muses who pointed me there.
In The Writers Room, I feel that I am among friends, at home with my “found family.” I am a writer, and these are other writers—with the same insecurities, neuroses, fears of looking foolish, doubts and demons. These are my people.
Find yourself a place like this—where sensitive and sympathetic artists have gathered—and marinate there. You just might burst into tears at the freedom you feel and the urge you have to let your creative impulses speak honestly, with unchecked mischief.