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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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Sleep Is
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Chicago Review Press

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Let's Panic

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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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Monday
Sep012008

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)

I am an artist, and mom of two (2 & 5 yrs old) living in Bloomfield. I am currently in an M.F.A program full time (painting) while I do the Mom thang. After a artistic drout for 10 years, I am finally doing what I was meant for artistically. More than anything, conquering my fears about making art has had everything to do with my new found success. If you are ever interested there is an amazing ARTs anonymous group that meets every Monday night in Upper Montclair. It is what got me painting again and as well as a seat in my grad program. There are actors, painters, singers, songwriters, musicians, writers, (and bloggers), visual artists, the whole creative array. We always talk about and address much of what you described in your blog. It's amazing how much clutter is floating around in our heads and therefore often blocking our ability to just start working. My husband just read your blog and told me it was a must for me to check out. I look forward to reading more. Good for you!
September 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSadie-la
Thank you. 3 hours ago I was writing pages and pages about how I was terrified to write and be a writer, even though I know it's something I can do and should do, which is probably why it's so goddamn terrifying. And feeling the exact same things about my friends who are writers and more accomplished than I am.

I just stumbled on to your blog today from your piece on Nerve.com and I happened to find this post, and after reading it, and the comments and I literally burst into tears. The good kind of tears, though.

I actually want to work in public radio and I'd seen the video clip about a month ago; also reassuring. So, thank you. Again. And keep at it, you.
October 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMarley

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