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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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I'm In...

Sleep Is
For The Weak

Chicago Review Press

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

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A few words about writing.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the creative process. Partly because Scott has started this amazing project, after years of talking about it but not doing much of anything. The one thing harder than starting is starting after years of talking about starting. Talking can kill the urge to create. So I'm sort of dying of pride, over here, while my husband works and works and keeps working, like he's a professional. I am a little in awe.

I've also been thinking about it because a reader (hi Sharon!) recently expressed surprise that I struggle with writing. I'm a little embarrassed to even share that with you, because it's kind of ridiculously flattering. It's also woefully inaccurate. So I wanted to reiterate to her, and you guys, that writing is a struggle for me, and always will be. It's the nature of the game. It's always hard, especially if you're doing it right. You're always aspiring to be better than you are, so no matter how much experience you get, it's always an uphill battle. Always, always, always.

Not to mention that whole "inner critic" hooha that anyone creative has to deal with. I am amazingly accomplished at beating myself up. I tell myself I'm too old, that all really talented writers were published much earlier than I ever was, that I don't have enough publications under my belt, that I should have written my novel when I got out of graduate school, that there are X number of writers who left my writing program when I did who are all on their second or third or seventh novel while I'm still not even a third of the way finished with a short story collection. I tell myself blogs are useless, that this site is a waste of time that's taking away from my Precious Writerly Resources. Or I tell myself that I'm just a blogger, as if blogging is somehow less relevant, so I shouldn't bother writing anything else. I tell myself that because I don't have large expanses of time to work I'm never going to reach my full potential. Or just decide that I suck and everyone who hates me is right and I'm never going to blah blah blah blah BLAH. It's a miracle that I get anything done, I'm so busy giving myself a hard time.

But everyone does this. This is how the mind works to stop you from writing. Creating is scary, and your brain wants you to run from scary things. For some reason it forgets about the rewards that come from risk. The brain will also do this for painting, or dancing, whatever creative work you do. I also draw and paint (in an extremely amateurish fashion, mind you) and I've been finding all sorts of reasons not to do either these days. The light in my dining room isn't quite right. I need better materials. My sketchbook is either too large or too small. There's nothing good to draw in my house, and I don't want to leave the house to draw because then people will look at what I'm doing. I can't remember how paints work. Watercolor paper is expensive and don't I need to stretch it, or something? Also my brushes aren't right. I have numerous excellent reasons for never attempting to create any artwork ever again.

Then yesterday I sat down and, while my brain screamed NO! DON'T! STOP!, I sketched for an hour. I sketched my cat, and my foot. Exciting, no? It was crappy and I did some terrible work. When I was done that voice in my head had been reduced, temporarily, to a mouselike squeak. And I felt like a superhero.

The only way to win over that voice is to work despite it. Doing stuff is always better than not doing stuff. Period.

Here's an inspiring talk on creativity by Ira Glass that another lovely reader (hi Erin!) sent me.

In a similar vein comes this anecdote from Art and Fear—which is a brilliant piece of work, by the way, chock full of quotables. A ceramics class is divided into two groups. The first group is graded on quantity: it doesn't matter how good their stuff is, just how many pounds of work they end up with. The second group is graded on quality: it didn't matter how few pots they create, just how perfect the final product is. Can you guess who ends up doing the best work? It's the quantity group: the students who churned out work day after day and learned from their mistakes. Meanwhile, the quality group had wasted time mulling over how they could achieve perfection, so by the end of the class they had "little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."

It's all about working and working and working some more, no matter how crappy you think it is. You are never the best judge of your work, so shut up and work and don't stop to wonder why it's not a masterpiece. Remember what Voltaire said: "The perfect is the enemy of the good." He probably wrote that after spending an hour whining about how he'd never be as important an Enlightenment figure as that fathead Rousseau .

Don't sit and agonize over how you're not good enough. Don't leave yourself with a pile of dead clay. Start and keep going; if you stop, start again, and keep going.

Reader Comments (102)

A gift to read this today. Thank you.
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDeirdre
Wow. I was just explaining all this to my husband last night - all the recent realizations about the importance of doing creative work anyway, despite the overwhelming feelings of loser-ness and what's-the-point? at times.

So, to everything you've said, I say YES! You keep on truckin', and so will the rest of us who have been inspired by your post.

Poo to the Naysayer!
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterhikooky
I know it: my husband emailed you and asked you to write this, begging you to say something that would put an end to me complaining about how terrible my books is instead of actually shutting up and writing it. There's no other way to explain the incredible timeliness of this post.

I was recently asked to write a memoir based on my blog. How wonderful! Every blogger's dream! Turns out, it is not the amazingly fun and glamorous project I thought it would be. So many time I almost cry when I sit down to write, beyond frustrated that this is just not shaping up to be the magnum opus I wanted it to be.

Anyway, as I was sitting here reading my favorite blogs during the time I was supposed to be working on my book, my jaw dropped when I saw this post. It's like you were speaking directly to me.

September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer (Et Tu?)
I've struggled with the 'blogging is not writing' 'yes it is' 'no it isn't' inner dialogue for a couple years now. I think it depends on what you write. Sometimes it's anti-productive for me because I know my blog is read immediately, and I carry over that immediate-editing technique into my fiction. That's the thing that slows down my creativity more than anything. And it's also why I cut way back on blogging (and commenting) a while back.

But it is writing - blogging, I mean. It's putting words together in a way that engages people... wait - I'm preaching to the choir here, aren't I? Carry on...
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMignon
Great advice, and very inspiring. Thanks for sharing the pottery class example--have never heard it before but it sounds like a good metaphor for why I love blogging.
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteranna
It's nice to hear that you, and others, experience the same thing. I am so tired of hearing myself bitch about writing when it's really all I've ever wanted to do. I am my own worst enemy. I started my blog to get myself writing and now I tell myself blogging isn't writing. I want more than anything to get published and the few times I have been, I've made excuses for it, like, "Oh, they must have had some really bad submissions this go round." WTF! Always uphill, as you say. Oh, and I saw the Ira Glass video -loved it. Thanks for this post! I needed it. Always need it.
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermerlotmom
Thank you so much for posting this--I have the same problem, trying to publish so I can get a "real" job at a university, and I have the same problems you're describing. Thank you thank you for the study about the potters--I heard this all time, over and over, from all my professors and advisors, but I still can't get rid of the urge to write stupendous, amazingly good things rather than just practicing writing more frequently. Thank you. I can't say it enough.
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjenalda
I so(!) needed to read this today. Thank you.
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRachel
I just finished ART and FEAR. I struggle constantly with the spectre of perfection and the battle of trying to translate what is in my head into the world. Thanks for the post. It was just the reminder I needed.
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMs. Ellaneous
"Don't sit and agonize over how you're not good enough. Don't leave yourself with a pile of dead clay. Start and keep going; if you stop, start again, and keep going."

WOW! I am sitting here in tears. I have been floundering for weeks, fighting the things I KNOW I have to change, working hard at not taking the leap of faith to start really living. I had set up Labor Day as the end. Tomorrow my life changes, my world gets moving. I plan to start blogging again, accepting my Type II Diabetes, and getting my life in order.

Please keep doing what you are doing. You have been an inspiration.

PS: Have you seen "Meet the Robinson's" yet? What an amazing move with the over all message KEEP MOVING FOREWORD.

September 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterindigobabs
OMG, thank you. I've only been writing for a month (other than 20 years of needless advertising proposals) and I'm already thinking those same thoughts. I was starting to think "maybe this isn't such a great idea" but your post really helped. We newbies are so your blog and always enjoy your posts...keep it up Alice! You are inspiring!!!m
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMary Anne
Oh yes. Struggling painter with a very fancy art degree and very crappy day here. What a wonderful post. Oh that little voice in your head. My latest reason not to paint, is well, I don't want to make the house messy with my art supplies (the house is already messy).I've been reading you for years I think, but this Is my first comment...this post was very right.

"The only way to win over that voice is to work despite it. Doing stuff is always better than not doing stuff. Period."

thanks so much for writing that. I'm going to write that down.
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLiz
I completely understand. I have been in the "polishing" stages of my children's story for months (and haven't touched it at all). If I ever want to get published, I need to do it. Thank you for the kick in the aspirations!
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSprite's Keeper
you know i so needed a post like this...every few weeks (maybe every few days) can you call me and tell me this? pretty please???p.s.i did finally put my first things up on etsy :) thanks for introducing me to that!

September 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteraubrey cece
...a slice of brilliance. Thank you for clearing my overwhelming metal debris
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjoanna
"I tell myself I'm too old, that all really talented writers were published much earlier than I ever was, that I don't have enough publications under my belt..."

HOLY TAP-DANCING CHRIST ON A CRACKER YES. This could have been cut straight from my inner monologue today, only with all of the references to singing replaced with writing.

Thank you so much for this post; it was damned good timing today. I needed someone to say these things to me, and remind me not to get so caught up in navel-gazing and self-criticism that I just stop working on my art. You are amazing!

September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie
I love you for this.
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMarie
I think I love you - too soon? Apologies.

Do you have any advice on writing really stupid essays for uni?
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDeidre
This was exactly what I needed to hear.Thank you-Thank you-Thank you!
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterelisa
As a "Retired" textile designer, I can fully relate to this post.I could never perfect my designs to my liking... and it was an area of great distress. Blogging is great for exactly this reason... the pressure to keep on doing it guarantees lots of practice.Having turned to your blog and archives repeatedly, I would have to say you already have writtent he great american novel.Elizabeth Gilbert said that the whole time she was writing "Eat, Pray, Love" she was saying "this sucks... no one's going to want to read this."Us creative types are posessed by demons, what can I say.
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterZip N Tizzy
Ooops I should ammend that.That wasn't a direct quote by Elizabeth, but the gist of it.
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterZip n Tizzy
When you finish with those short stories be sure to let us know. You're one of my favorite bloggers, and I'm dying to see what some of your creative writing is like.

And this post? Brilliant. I'm an aspiring photographer and have started taking steps towards making something more of this hobby, but one of my biggest obstacles is that voice that says, "Why do you think you're as good as or better than others out there?" Your words have helped silence it.

And I love the story about the pottery class. I'll have to pass that one on to my sister-- she's very into NaNoWriMo and that story certainly helps justify and show the benefit of that sort of an exercise.
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy
Thanks you for your comments on putting off the evil hour. You've obviously tuned into some sort of writers zeigeist and we're all out here looking desperately for something to do rather than face the keyboard. I promise to try harder. Di
September 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDi Foden
Great post, Alice.... You're so right about keeping going. Every writer/creator struggles with these issues. I think that making "quantity clay" is an excellent way to approach the page. The more I write, whatever it is, the freer and more open -- and more interesting -- the writing becomes. So maybe quantity gets you to quality? But whether it does or not, the quantity way sure feels a lot better!

September 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJeannette
Thank you, Alice. I'm an illustrator who decided to "take a break" from work after baby #3 came along ... and he's going to be two in a few months. I hadn't sketched anything new (just for fun, without a job in mind) for a long time, but have lately started making myself do it again, and leaving materials out so I'll be reminded. I had forgotten that it's one of the very few projects that I can do easily with kids around. Anyhow, your post will inspire me to do more and more from now on ... thank you!!!
September 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

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