I remember when the song Cecilia came out. Written by Paul Simon and recorded by Simon and Garfunkel for their Bridge Over Troubled Water album, it was generally regarded as a simple lover’s lament at best, but often as a vulgar endorsement of promiscuity.
Making love in the afternoon with Cecilia
Up in my bedroom (making love)
I got up to wash my face
When I come back to bed
Someone’s taken my place
It wasn’t until many years later that I heard that it might refer to St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. In that context, it becomes an expression of frustration at a fickle muse. And that puts everything in a very different light. When our muses inspire an artist, it is thrilling beyond description [although that doesn't stop writers, especially poets, from trying to describe it]. But there will come a time [and it could as easily be on a bright, sunny morning as it could a cold, lonely night] when we feel abandoned. Writers, and I suppose artists in every medium, are no strangers to anxiety and doubt.
Manifestations of these doubts range from being self-deprecating in our descriptions of our writing abilities to feelings of inadequacy to full-on anxiety attacks. I took a quick look through some of the blogs I follow in Reader and easily found a half-dozen or so entries on this topic posted in just the last couple of months. And these are all very talented writers. Plus, over at eMergent Publishing’s Write Anything all of the staff writers conducted a skills audit and published the results earlier this month. Many [I think most, but I wasn't really counting] of them expressed such doubts and anxieties too. Again, these are all very talented writers.
Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart
You’re shaking my confidence daily
Oh, Cecilia, I’m down on my knees
I’m begging you please to come home
Oddly enough [or perhaps not, if you know me] I was reminded of all this because I received some very nice compliments on my writing this weekend. I am one of those people who would usually make a self-deprecating comment when I receive a compliment. In the past I’ve had friends tell me straight out, “You should just say, ‘Thank you,’ and leave it at that,” before I learned that my comments could lead the person giving a compliment to believe I didn’t appreciate it. I still fall into that old habit sometimes, but at least I am more aware of it now and I’m working on it.
Anyway, it occurred to me that one reason we sometimes find it easy to doubt our talents is because we spend so much time asking, “What if…?” And while that’s all well and good when writing a song or a story or painting a picture or any of the infinite other things creative people do, it’s not a great leap from the positive What if the character does this instead of that? to the negative What if everything I write is crap?
I know that one reason I had such an inappropriate reaction is that I didn’t think ‘Til My Fingers Bleed was very good. Sometimes I write things just to get them out of my head and it started out as one of those stories. The first draft, which I quickly scrapped, was from the POV of the musician. And maybe that colored my perception of the version that followed. Even after rewriting it, I held it for a few weeks before posting it. And honestly, I still had an impulse to click Trash instead of Publish.
After it went out in the world and other people liked it some of those doubts came back to bite me in the ass. Was saying that you like one piece also saying that you didn’t like other pieces? Of course not, but for a short while such was the sort of craziness going on in my head. Am I really such a terrible judge of the quality of my own work that I can’t even be trusted to decide between Trash and Publish? I had to remind myself that my favorite pieces are never likely to be your favorite pieces. More importantly, I reminded myself, “You should just say, ‘Thank you,’ and leave it at that,” before the craziness got out of control.
Jubilation, she loves me again,
I fall on the floor and I’m laughing,
Jubilation, she loves me again,
I fall on the floor and I’m laughing
Here are some of the posts I consulted when preparing this:
- What Am I Doing? by Adam Byatt
- A dialogue with a demon By Emma Newman
- And then the demon caught up by Emma Newman
- Writer’s Procrastination by Julie Johnson
- The Perils of Comparison and the Posse of Imposters Answered by Jodi Cleghorn
- the art of being fearless by Justine Musk
- Looking Back by Zena Shapter
- From Production to Worrying… the Best and Worst of Jim. by Jim Bronyaur
- Shall I Compare Thee by Jodi Cleghorn
- It’s Not As Bad As It Looks by Rob Diaz
- Bomb the Deprecation by Zena Shapter
- Even Writers Audit Their Skills by Icy Sedgwick
- The Incoherent Ramblings of a Deconstructed Writer by Emma Venables
- Digging for gold, finding lead by Tony Noland
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