Under Pressure: Learning to Release Creative Ambition

For me, writing is therapy. Whether it’s stream of consciousness unplugging in my journal or dreaming up a story to lose myself in, writing has always been an outlet for my anxious brain. But sometimes, I try to force my writing to be something that it’s not. Blame it on my fancy degree or ambitiousness, but either way, I occasionally imagine myself to be the next great literary genius. An ingenue creating insightful, heart-rending novels that earn rave reviews from critics and a plethora of prestigious awards. And for that to happen, I must write Great Literature. Meaningful literature with themes that are both universal and somehow revolutionary. Stories that have never been created before and characters that resonate so deeply with readers, they wonder if I’ve peered into their minds.

This is a really great way to stoke your ego, elevating your imaginary talent far above the hack jobs who are publishing less-than-world-changing work. It’s also a great way to beat yourself up because you’ll never be good enough to write that perfect story. It’s a great way to pretend that you’re writing. What it’s not, is a great way to actually write.

Whenever I start to think this way, often halfway through a first draft or round of editing, I get blocked and stop writing. Because for some reason, convincing yourself that you need to be the greatest writer on earth is not the best way to practice being the writer you actually are. It’s like believing you have to be perfect leaves no room for failing and doing the work that will help you learn to be better. Crazy, right?

And so I have to remind myself again and again that I love to write. Writing is fun. Creating is fun. This seems like a weird thing to have to remind yourself but I like to think I’m not the only creative person that has to occasionally repeat my personal mantra: No One Is Making You Do This. You Chose This. Ommmmm.

So much of being a creative person is letting go of the outcome. To be creative, you have to be in the moment. You have to deal with the words you’re writing, not the ones you wish you were. You have to focus on the clay in your hands, not the vase eventually baking in the kiln. Or else there is no story. The clay falls flat in your hands. The end result never materializes.

This is also probably the hardest lesson to learn and the one most in need of repeating. Because making art is like creating little worlds that we are the gods of. It is an incredible illusion of control. You are making the thing! You decide what it looks like, sounds like, smells like! Who is and is not a part of it. It feels like we should be in complete control. But so often we’re not. The muse doesn’t appear that day, the souffle falls flat, the talent we possess is not quite a match for our imagination. And it’s okay. It doesn’t feel like it, but it really is. We give everything we have today, and the next day, and the day after that. And little by little, the outcome appears.

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