On Craft, Fear, Discipline and Trusting Your Own Opinions
Is it possible to spend too much time studying craft?
Information on how to improve your craft is everywhere. And there’s some solid, very useful stuff out there. But I believe you can fall into a trap where you spend more time reading/discussing/learning/talking about your craft than actually doing it. It can be a form of avoidance. Learning from credible sources is valuable, yes. And you need to take the lead and find out what you need to know. But after you’ve gleaned that info, you have to act. There is no other way to learn the physical and emotional aspects of your work than by doing it yourself. And it’s the only way you will grow into yourself and learn to trust your own opinions.
Why do we avoid actually doing the work? Is it some kind of block?
Fear, mostly. I run into it all the time. Often when stepping back from a revised draft and needing to come back to it. It isn’t always fear, but hesitation to confront the heavy subject matter of the characters and content. I’m not always ready to be in the character’s space, to dwell in their conflicts and pain. Or to feel it. What do I do? I put on some inspirational music, sit down with the writing and characters, and do it anyway. I’ve never come away from an experience like that wishing that I had done something else.
Writers run into “writer’s block” which can stem from fear, unprocessed rejection or simply from the story/characters not being ready yet. There’s a fine balance you have to walk between leading the forward progress of a story and listening, waiting and being patient for the story/characters to reveal themselves. If you’re avoiding your work, step back and have a good look at what it is you’re not wanting to face. Is it you or is it the story/characters?
So is it a question of discipline then?
Discipline has such a negative connotation to it. It’s so associated with punishment that I don’t know anyone who really responds well to that word. But we talk a lot about it in the creative professions. I think this discussion is actually about whether or not you will create consistently and complete projects. If you’re a professional, you will. And if you are committed to your project, you will.
Sometimes it really isn’t a matter of discipline, but of making a decision. Too often, for various reasons, we give ourselves room to hedge, options to turn back, and dwell in a place where we haven’t fully made a conscious decision to do something. When we haven’t fully committed it leaves a nagging sense of hesitation. Should I or shouldn’t I? Will I or won’t I? I don’t really have to because I’m not sure if I really want to be doing this, etc. It gives us an excuse not to succeed.
I get that this struggle is complicated if you’re not a full-time creative professional. But I think you can still make the decision to be the artist you want to be, regardless of your current circumstances. And doing so, can change your life in amazing ways.
One of the benefits of being a full-time writer is that it’s a guaranteed fact that I will be writing. It’s what I do. This is who I am. Whether or not I write on a particular day is always girded by the fact that I will be writing in the days to come. I don’t give myself the option of not returning to a project, not writing, not finishing it. If you’re not full-time and you have a day job to manage, you can still make a commitment to your creative work, just as you would if you were going back to college and pursuing more education. When you do that, you decide that you’re going to be a student. You can do the same thing with your creative life. Decide who are you going to be.
We don’t commit: is it fear of failure or success?
People assume they’re afraid of failure, but more often than not, it’s success and achieving a dream that scares us the most. Why? It may be unfamiliar territory, we may not have evolved our inner beliefs about success and what it will mean to us yet, and we may just be scared because we can’t see what will come next. Here’s something to remember: once you achieve one dream, another will take its place. Something new will evolve for you, new desires, new wishes, new creative goals. You expand in spirit as your learn to live in your power. You take on bigger dreams and understand that you can have a bigger impact. You won’t be bored.
But isn’t it because the creative life is hard?
It’s popular to tell ourselves and everyone else we know that creative life/work is hard. I’ve never gotten this one. When you are doing something you love, it doesn’t feel like work at all. Time ceases to exist. Hours, days fly by as you’re lost in creating. It is one of the most joy-filled, most satisfying activities one can do. So why do we keep telling ourselves that it’s hard? As in, you shouldn’t expect too much of your work, yourself, the industry because your chances are so little of “making it” that it’s just pointless.
No one who ever achieved success believed this.
Does creative work, take work? Yes. Does it takes time? Yes. Effort? Yes. Does it take being willing to keep at it until your work (and you) grows into its strongest, most powerful form? Yes. But hard? No. Don’t tell yourself that. It’s not hard. You can do this. “Do” is the key word here.
How do you get to a place where you trust your own opinion?
You have to grow into it. By practicing your craft, knowing what you want to create and measuring your work against professional standards and your own. It does not mean not asking for credible feedback or being unwilling to change your work if it strengthens and empowers it. It means having the confidence based on experience to know when and when not to change your work. The more experience you have, the more you know how to separate the chaff from the grain. You take feedback and filter it through a deep trust in yourself and trust in your art.
You know what matters most in your work, and know that only you can determine if you’ve expressed it. You understand that you have to be in command of your work and take responsibility for the executive-style decisions that have to be made about it.
This comes with experience. And the only way to gain experience is to be doing the work.