“I am garbage.”
That’s what I thought when I first saw the message.
Feedback had finally come back on my big writing project. Long story short — my client didn’t like where we were going so far.
In the note he said this:
“It doesn’t move me.”
Which, probably, is the worst thing any person who does creative work could ever hear. The proverbial knife to the heart.
After I read it, the cold realization struck: I had been expecting this.
On some level, every creative person is waiting for someone to tell us we are crap.
We are P.T. Barnum, fooling our consumers until one of them says “hang on, this isn’t quite right.”
At which point, we are relieved to give up the ghost:
“At last. THIS person understands me! Thank God you’ve identified me as the fraud I really am!”
It’s as if every demon from your old gym teacher, every breakup, every doubt, every admonishment from your parents is waiting in the corner of your mind, waiting for you to slip up.
See, I just tried and failed 3 times to spell “admonishment” correctly. A part of me wondered if a real writer would have that problem.
So what to do?
Hustle your way past it?
I’ve tried that before. The string always snaps.
Pretend the voice doesn’t exist?
HA! Maybe I will also remove one of my fingers.
Choose a different career or calling?
I wish. The fact of the matter is I simply cannot. Were I to choose a management career at Burger King, I would be writing tweets on napkins, scribbling poems on packets of ketchup, and daydreaming during the cleanup hour.
Instead, I like to think of what artist Sol Lewitt told a sculptor Eva Hesse when she was struggling with her work, with feelings of doubt and disgrace, of angst and agony.
“Maybe you need your agony to accomplish what you do.”
Art will never be a simple task. Its very nature demands a new effort from you — not once, not twice, but EVERY time.
You die EVERY time.
You challenge assumptions EVERY time.
You hear the voice EVERY time.
You become a new person EVERY time.
(This is what happens if you’re doing it right)
I can’t pretend your journey is going to get easier.
All I can do is say this:
I understand. I feel it too.
There’s another line in Sol Lewitt’s letter. It goes like this:
“Maybe you need your agony to accomplish what you do.
“But it is painful, I know.”
Lewitt is well known in the art world. Among other things, he had success in photography, building sculptures, drawing on walls, and architecture. His work is in museum. Perhaps the strongest testament to his legacy is this — he is dead, and we am still talking about him.
Despite all that, he still felt the voice. He knew what it was like to feel less than enough.
And that makes me a little less lonely.
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