In a few days, I’m flying up to San Francisco to attend a writing workshop. It will be the first one I’ve done since I finished school and the first one I’ve done not in a school setting. I’m nervous and excited. I’m prepared to be a sponge, to be the best sponge I can, and hopefully when I wake up next week, my brain will agree with me.
When I first started reading through the other pieces of the people in the workshop, I was struck by how good they were. That filled me with an intense anxiety. Was everyone really good? Does that mean I’m really good? Or, am I the worst of the really good ones? And then I read a few more and realized it was a more even mix of skill level than I had first thought. Don’t get me wrong, everyone can sure as hell write. But some people have bigger, more glaring and incapacitating problems than others.
Which leads to a whole new level of existential crisis…am I one of the really good ones of the bunch, or of the not so good ones or do I occupy an island unto myself in the middle, neither really good nor really bad?
It’s always amusing (in a very humorless way) that artists and the art world alike are full of paralyzing self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and a whole malady of mental disorders that accompany disordered thinking, poor self-esteem, impulse control, and others when really, to be supremely successful, besides your inborn talent, you have to have a fuckton of self-confidence. It is quite the painful irony you see, that the vast majority of people who wants to spend their days doing art, writing, and the like, lack the confidence to do so. Even those who do achieve success are often shy, withdrawn, and want to be largely left alone to pursue a life of art.
So how then do we reconcile these two parts of ourselves? A need to produce art that brings happiness to other people, that spreads joy and purpose and meaning throughout the world, when we must become (in some regards) the worst version of ourselves? A mad egoist, a vile telemarketer, that guy at the party who won’t shut up about himself.
To do what we feel our purpose calls us to do, we must turn away from our inward compass, forsake the guidance of our own hearts and brains, and wade out into the world occupied by the egocentrics, the self-absorbed, the narcissistic.
Because that is the way the world demands that things be done.
Every step in the journey of being a writer, is an exercise in these anxieites. Whether it’s submitting your story or poem to a friend or parent to read, throwing it on the mercy of your peers or the black hole of the internet, dragging it off to a workshop or conference to be shredded by strangers, shoving it in the face of this agent or that publisher, and finally, if you are part of the lucky 0.00000000000000001 % who achieves the Holy Grail of publication, well now you have the criticism of the whole world outside your door, newspapers, magazines, pages of Amazon reviews saying why you are or aren’t the greatest author that ever lived.
And after all this pain, all this worry, this trying to run against your nature, what do we get to show for it?
Connection. The connection of universal truths and stories. Reaching people years and worlds apart from you. Maybe just that one person who will come to love your story as deeply and tenderly as their own child, a beloved pet, a parent. That one person for whom your words speak.
That makes it all worth it. That is the reason for the lovely struggle.