Cutting Yourself Some Slack

This morning as we were wrapping up an ornament that my son made for his teacher, we had this conversation:

Son: You know what I don't get about art?

Me: What?

Son: Some people will look at it and they'll really like it, but then the person who made it will look at it and they won't think it's very good. 

Me: Well, I think that has more to do with the artist than the art.

And then I think he ran off to play with his legos for a few minutes.

My kid occasionally has these deep insights into things, though I don't think he's thinking about them as much as I do. However, what he said really struck me and I wanted to laugh and go, "Yeah? Well, you should get in a room with some writers some time and ask them about their work. Then you will really hear it." Writers, on the whole, can be very hard on their own work. I often will look back on things that I've written and I can't help but approach it with a critical eye. I see mistakes. I see things that I would do differently. And sometimes I kick myself for them.

Here's the thing--of course I'm going to see fault. Every day we as humans get better at what we're doing. It's part of the learning process. Even if all you're doing is sitting on the couch eating chips and playing video games, you're still improving your skillset and someday you will be the pinnacle of all that is couch potato.

The critical eye can be good. We need it to edit and we need it to keep our egos in check. I might think some joke I write is hilarious, but if I have three beta readers that disagree, then I need that critical voice to say, "Well, maybe you're not being that funny here. Let's see if you can do better." That is when it's handy. When you look at everything you touch and go, "Man, that's crap. I should just quit." well, that's not handy. That's destructive. Look, we're all going to fall victim to the Doubt Monster. The creative process is revealing and scary and it can make you feel vulnerable. It's risk. Risk is good. Even if it turns out poorly, it's still a wonderful thing to stretch your little baby bird wings and grow as a person and a creator. 

You have to learn to cut yourself some slack. It's okay to be a little critical, but if everything out of your mouth is negative, your internal creator is going to go cry in a corner and will lose its motivation to create at all. I like to look at it this way: the world is already full of mean, snarky people ready to queue up and tear your creation apart. I see no real reason why you should help them do that. Make them work for it. Make them earn their nasty words. Don't hand your soft heart to them on a platter and say, "Go for it! I hear the middle part it the most succulent!" 

Some days, it's going to hurt. Some days you're going to fall down and wallow in the mud and cry. That just can't be helped. And if you need to do it for a bit, okay. Like I said, cut yourself some slack and have a good wallow. But when you're done, get up, tie a Rambo-style bandana around your head, scream your battle cry, and try again. Each time we do that, we get a little closer to doing it right.

Finally, this: While it's okay to look up to other writers, don't compare yourself to them. Therein lies MADNESS.  It's a really good way to invite in the Doubt Monster, and once he's in, he settles in for the winter. We all have writers we look up to, and that's okay. I wish I could be as witty as Terry Pratchett, or a great plotter like Jim Butcher. I wish I could get away with prose that is damn near poetry like Laini Taylor, or smash in amazingly disparate ideas and make them work like Libba Bray. But I'm not them, and when I write, I shouldn't be trying to be them. I should be trying, every day and minute, to be more like me. I want each book or story to be better than the last thing I wrote. That's all I'm striving for. As a writer, you're the only person you should be comparing yourself to.

So go forth. Ready your battle cry. And maybe get on of these