The Artist’s Dilemma

I sat down to start this post in my usual fashion; with misery, cynicism, and a little self-loathing. But then I remembered that negativity begets negativity, and the last thing I need is another reason to beat myself up. So, I’ve picked the next closest thing: honesty.

I took yet another break from writing in general. People have told me and continue to tell me they love my blog posts, my copy, my short stories — whatever it may be — but I just… don’t believe them. Imposter syndrome, I believe they call it. Feelings of inadequacy that block us from ever proving to ourselves that we are better than we think we are. It’s a vicious cycle that I often struggle to break out of.
We create art to express ourselves and resonate with people, so when they tell us they want to see us or hear us, why can’t we deliver? Why do we feel like frauds in our field –surely I’m not meant to be in this club? You’ll find that this club is filled almost exclusively with people who are, in fact, very good at what they do. Conversely, there are a lot of people who produce ridiculously sub-par work, but because they believe they can get to the top with it, they soar. Right to the very top.

Ideas only exist once pen hits paper and your thoughts are placed in the world. It’s only when something is real and tangible and no longer in the sanctity of your mind that it becomes subject to scrutiny. My stream of consciousness finds its way out onto the page before I even know what I’ve written; the short moment between writing and editing is when I’m reading it back — and sometimes, it is truly painful. My theory is that we have too perfect an understanding of what good art is; so much so, that we subject ourselves to higher standards. Anything that falls below that just won’t cut it and that’s why we feel we’re straying further from the ideal.

I guess that’s the hardest part of being an artist of any sort; you are your own worst critic, whether you’re a writer, a musician, a painter, a photographer, or anything else that falls within the blurry boundaries of art. Perfectionism and the torment that comes with it is what binds us. Perfectionism keeps us going, but perfectionism is also what brings us down harder than anything else. Perfectionism is what can make you look back at the last three years and wonder why the hell you wasted it doing practically nothing when you could have produced literally anything. You think you can hurt me? I write tens of thousands of words and then destroy them all with the click of a button.

We like to convince ourselves that no work is better than crap work, and I personally would rather eat rusty nails than allow a steaming pile of literary dog turd to find its place in the world under my own name. But the subjectivity of art means that my opinion on my own work matters more than anything else, and also not at all. One person’s Rupi Kaur is another person’s Stephen King.

No, that was stupid. There are some rules to art.

I can trace the beginnings of my disappointment with my writing back to a couple of instances, after which I resolved to set one golden rule for myself.

Write for yourself, always

The roots of frustration are tangled somewhere in the idea that I needed to start worrying about whether people were reading my work. I somehow forgot myself and thought this was something I, someone who didn’t care for journalism or any sort of writing that involved scoping what was popular, had to consider; it was downhill from there.
When I wrote simply for myself, the people who were reading were people like me. When I wrote for myself, I was hopping out of the shower to frantically get my ideas down in my phone, I was staying up late, typing a thousand words a minute because my thoughts were running faster than my fingers could keep up and I had to record them before they slipped away forever.
Then I started wondering what other people wanted to read and, very slowly, my passion for philosophy and fiction, for telling stories through flawed characters that have lived my own life, disappeared behind questions like ‘what clickbaity article can I write that I’ll hate the least?’

I didn’t write those articles, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t. It just means I haven’t decided I want to be a washed up B*zzFeed contributor. Yet. (Obviously my rule doesn’t apply to journalists –it’s literally your job to write for other people. I personally can’t think of anything worse for myself.)

This post is going to end with a really crap fizzle-out. I’m hoping I can leave writer’s block for good, but if not, look out for Build a Random Breakfast in a European City and I’ll Tell You Which Eastenders Character You Are, by yours truly.

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