Eventually, if we to function as writers, there comes a time when we must put down the craft book, close out the browser with its carefully curated bookmarks, and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. We must take time away from the experts and breathe life into our fictitious worlds. This is an obvious truth and yet one I resist time and again despite feeling a nearly unbearable urge to write.
I’ll begin after one more article, I tell myself, one more class. I’m like the child at bedtime who, eyes drooping and head nodding, insists on another trip to the bathroom or a glass of cold water.
If the truth is evident—that at some point we need to learn to write through actual writing—why can it be so difficult to turn from passive to active learning?
Sometimes it’s a case of simple fear in that we believe we aren’t up to the present day’s task. Perhaps we will be required to use a technique we haven’t yet mastered. Maybe we don’t know where we are headed and haven’t built up a tolerance to the discomfort of uncertainty.
Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe we are due to tackle a head-banger of a sex scene and suddenly realize it will be read by our mother and the sniffing ladies from her coffee group. (Or worse, by our well-meaning fathers who don’t read a word of fiction otherwise, but who vow to be supportive.)
Lately, however, I’ve increasingly wondered how much of this resistance isn’t retreat into pure habit and conditioning.
For instance, many of us work in careers where we’ve been taught to follow established processes and do all we can to avoid unnecessary risk. This makes sense. Generally speaking it’s unwise to promote creativity in airplane mechanics, surgeons, or nuclear power technicians.
Then there are those of us who come from families which teach deferral to authority. Perhaps we’ve absorbed the my house, my rules mentality and have unconsciously extended that model to our writing teachers, equating their approval with security. (In some families, succumbing to an authoritarian mindset can be the only way to ensure psychological or physical survival.) X knows best, we think. If I adopt X’s mentality and techniques, I can be guaranteed a good result.
Automatic and Unconscious Deferral to Authority
It’s this last situation I wanted to talk about today in the context of the movie Kumaré , which is one of the most powerful treatises I know on the limitations of authority.
Have you seen this movie? If not, be warned that spoilers lie ahead.