As some of you know, I recently had rotator cuff surgery, which put my writing practice temporarily on the shelf. This was a big problem for me, because I’m not the sort of person who can sit around doing nothing for too long (“too long” being defined as the time it took me to watch every damn episode of Breaking Bad). I needed some form of creative expression, something I could do with one hand – my off hand – until my shoulder had sufficiently healed.
I turned to art.
Well, not art exactly – graphic image manipulation, through the good offices of a wonderful, free program called GIMP (www.gimp.org). I had tinkered and toyed with the program before – squeezed a couple of book covers out of it – but I’d never really set out to plumb the depths of its potential. More to the point, I’d never set out to be an artist before.
I was scared spitless.
After forty years of self-defining as a writer, I was suddenly somehow trying to self-define as, well, something else. I knew I couldn’t call myself an artist; I hadn’t in any way earned that title. But if I didn’t call myself something – something at least vaguely aspirational – how would I or could I ever fight through the thicket of learning and growing – and rank insecurity – that lay between me and genuine artistic expression?
How, in other words, could I fight my fear of failure?
Well, the first thing I did was craft an artist’s manifesto. (When I told an artist friend of mine that I had done this, he just laughed and said, “That’s such a writer thing to do.”) Here’s it is:
1/ I will create images I believe in.
2/ I will decide which images I believe in.
3/ I will stand behind the images I create.
Here’s how having a manifesto immediately helped: It let me sidestep the judgment of others, and my attendant fear of that judgment. By putting responsibility for deciding what worked and what didn’t squarely in my own hands, I emotionally supported my earliest efforts with a certain bravura bravado. I knew that failure would be a big feature of this particular learning curve, but also that there would be instances of “not failure” – the creation of images that pleased me or made me laugh – and that it was up to me to recognize those instances and take satisfaction in those early, halting successes.
Were one to substitute the word “sentences” or “stories” for “images” in that manifesto, it would be a pretty good one for writers too, I think. [Read more…]