Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Self-doubt: a writer's gift or curse?

Read Marc O'Connell's heartbreaking - and hilarious - NY Times Sunday magazine essay on writing and his adventures with the demon/angel of self-doubt.  He lasers in on the paradox every writer faces at some point: the gift that makes us better, that keeps us from imagining every word we blurt onto the page is brilliant at first go, is the same thing that can stop the flow entirely.

Do you ever have this experience?  The critical eye that catches a sloppy turn of phrase or cliche is the same eye that judges our raw creative impulses before they have a chance to manifest at all.  When I'm first beginning to draft a new piece, I find that I just have to slap dark glasses on the all-seeing eye, tell it to look the other way while I'm stumbling through the first sentences.  It takes time to draw out an unformed idea, time and shaky courage and the freedom to be bad.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, in an interview, once said that in the early phase of the creative process she says "yes" to everything.  Everything, no matter how outlandish.  Turn this character into a crow?  Sure.   Set the next scene 200 years into the future? Why not?  She turns nothing away, she explained, even though 90 percent of it doesn't make it into the final draft.  The ten percent that does is gold.

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