Are you a creative person who often thinks, ‘I’m not good enough’
Here are 7 ways to keep creating, daily.
“Art belongs to everyone,” Pat Schneider said.
She passed away this year, and often I think of her, an award-winning poet and author who founded Amherst Writers’ and Artists’ Method in Massachusetts and spent her career in what she described as a revolution. She worked to make the creative world accessible to all, especially the poor. I think of her definition of the “original voice” when I meet a refugee with a poignant unheard perspective at the camp where I volunteer in Switzerland. I think of her when I feel voiceless on many days, too.
Though I have years of experience as a writer, artist, and instructor, I am poor in confidence. Some mornings there’s no positive inkling in me. I am void. And so I return to Pat Schneider and my old instructor Valerie Ann Leff, trained by Pat, who first encouraged me to write when I was muddling through a family crisis. “Your voice is strong,” she said. It was a simple sentence, yet her words were all I needed to continue.
Each week, I’d leave the deafening voices of those who criticized my 9-year-old depressed special needs son, to find my way through the snowy, windy roads of Connecticut to Valerie’s clear voice in workshop. There, after we wrote and shared, she’d say, “Tell me what is strong.”
I’ll never forget Allegra, Sam, Holly, Christine, Lyn, Linda and Ann from that workshop. They arrived weekly too, warmed by Valerie’s leadership and the voices of the group. Like Valerie, their strength lives in me today. Now in my own workshops and in my daily practice, I repeat Valerie’s question. “What’s strong?” This question pulls me onward despite a pandemic, despite critics, despite distance from friends and family.
What makes me an artist has become clear over the years: I create. I create every day, despite criticism and chaos around me. I take the pen or brush, sorting through layers of humanity, nature and time. I write and I paint a mark of blue or a slash of grey regardless of outcome. I say a phrase or press an image onto a surface, something that tells me to continue.
I think all forms of creative work become artifacts. They are not good or bad. They are remnants of lives lived.
Art provides light into the soul’s space. It reminds us that our ideas are not reliant on outcomes — they simply exist. Art is a new flavor, a touch of a pale waterside, a vision of flawed friendship, a detail of a kind marriage. It is a collection of facts, imagery and thoughts sorted like seeds, laid into sequences where they grow, perhaps into someone else.
Look at the light, look at how we’re aging together, see that child flourish despite our cruelty to one another, watch all that new information flowing, like time.
Now have all that. It is your life.
Eventually Valerie and a member of the New York Writers’ Coalition trained me to use a version of Pat Schneider’s writing method in my own workshops. These circles I host on Zoom from Switzerland, where writers participate from the US and Europe. I provide a version of Pat and Valerie’s format to all levels of writers, hoping to clear a pathway through a pandemic to original voices — voices deserving to flourish. After participants script essays, poems and stories, the strength in their perspective, tone, pacing, story arc, and details are identified by the group. We listen to one another with practiced precision, learning to suss out what’s powerful in each perspective. If writers want to publish their work, they edit later. But publishing and scrutiny are treated like unwelcomed parents. They are put aside in workshop time.
It’s amazing what happens when voices are heard, without judgment. Art comes alive.
Here are seven ways I’ve found to overcome my worst self-doubt outside of workshop time:
Start writing, drawing, painting or doing what you do to create. Define a time frame, preferably in a block, and commit to it. Do you write best after your first cup of coffee? Then enter that time period into your calendar. Try using a timer. Many artists swear by this.
Once you start creating, keep going for the entire time period to which you’ve committed. (This is where the timer helps.) No social media. No texting. No rising to sweep those crumbs under the desk. Don’t even look at the crumbs. Just create.
No criticism during first drafts. That self-critic kills creativity.
Criticism and editing are essential for published or marketed work, but only after the first draft. Why not let yourself create, totally unfiltered, at first?
Try writing by hand.
I was not a fan of this, until I tried it. Writing a first draft by hand forces a region of the brain to work that is not easily accessed on a keyboard. Also, it’s soothing if you hold the pen loosely, at the kitchen table even by a candle. Make the environment peaceful. Read more here in Forbes.
Try creating without outlining or sketching first.
I know this is uncomfortable for many. But countless successful novelists and artists swear that the “muse” only appears in all her glory when she isn’t forced out ahead of time. You will not perish if you allow yourself to explore in a non-linear way. You can line up details later. Try detaching from the end product while watching where the pen or brush goes. Here’s a great article about this.
Share when you’re ready, but be careful about feedback.
After completing my work, I inevitably fall victim to opinions. This lack of confidence is so counterproductive that a well-known author told me to finish writing my novel without accepting more feedback. “You know how to write it. Just write it,” she insisted. I still haven’t finished that novel, but I replay her message often in my mind. Other perspectives are valuable, and important if publishing. But feedback isn’t always constructive. Certain opinions can distract or shut down that priceless original voice. Do you admire the perspective given in the feedback? Ask yourself this honestly before you change anything.
Remember the thousands of famous artists and writers who were once rejected, criticized, and overlooked.
One publisher said about Hemingway’s submission of The Sun Also Rises this: “If I may be frank — you certainly are in your prose — I found your efforts to be both tedious and offensive.”
Monet’s Sunrise was deeply scrutinized. Gauguin and Van Gough were poor and mostly unrecognized.
Dr. Seuss was rejected 27 times.
Rupi Kaur, a current New York Times best selling “Insta” poet’s first book Milk and Honey was rejected by 137 publishers. She resorted to self-publishing. Many academics still don’t recognize the brilliance of her work. But don’t those publishers who missed out on a famous artist feel silly now?
Maybe you could become the next Rupi. But far more importantly, you could feel the incredible strength of your original voice, leaving its undeniable mark in time.