I had a conversation with a friend recently where she told me that my whole “self-doubt demon” personification thing doesn’t really speak to her. She said it feels shallow, almost cutesy, and not like real coping.
It made me realize that if that’s all I was doing–personifying the voice of doubt in my head and making light of it–it probably wouldn’t work that well for me, either. There’s something deeper that has to happen.
Getting Comfortable with Failure
In my first post on Rejection Survival Guide, I wrote the following (emphasis from now):
I know what it’s like to be in the trenches. I’ve been there. I’m still there. I may be there forever. So I’m getting comfortable, setting up shop, and mapping this place out for those of you who haven’t gotten to know this place like I have.
And in my post for The Artist Unleashed, I wrote:
Along with the 100+ rejections I’d racked up from other agents, plus all the rejections for the short stories I’d been submitting to literary magazines, I started to wonder if my calling in life was to get rejected. Well, I reasoned, at least I’m pretty good at it.
All the writers I’d heard of hadn’t been rejected nearly that much before getting published…. Getting rejected was the one area in which I could sincerely boast a great deal of experience.
These two passages reveal a shift that happened somewhere along the way in the way I viewed my failure to get published. Rejection was no longer something to run from and avoid at all costs. It was a place I could get comfortable and explore without feeling threatened. I knew that every successful writer has been there, and the fact that I had spent a lot of time there wasn’t something to be ashamed of; on the contrary, I should be proud of it. Heck, I’m so experienced at getting rejected, I’m practically an expert.
An expert at getting rejected? Whoever heard of such a thing? The idea was crazy–and so empowering. It turned this thing that had been giving me so much grief for so long completely on its head.
In psychological terms, this is called reframing: shifting perspective on a feeling, event, or thought and giving it new meaning. Sometimes, a cognitive shift is all that’s needed, and the results are immediate and powerful. Sometimes, the shift is a slower, deeper process that takes more time to unfold.
In this case, I think a lot of the groundwork was laid out by the work I’d been doing in therapy during the years before–a process of connecting with myself and becoming more confident and comfortable in my own skin. I think if I’d been told to think of my vast experience with rejection as “expertise” five years ago, I probably would have rolled my eyes and felt that whoever said that was making fun of me–and invalidating the real pain I was feeling, to boot. The change needed to come from within me.
Here are some other “reframings” I’ve done that help me cope with some of my creativity-related challenges:
Self-Doubt as Part of the Growth Process
For a long time, whenever I had a wave of self-doubt–a “writing crisis,” I called it–it scared me. It made me worry that I was losing faith in myself, that I was giving up, that I would never make it–or that it meant that I was finally facing the truth, that I really wasn’t “good enough.”
Only very recently, I began to reframe those “writing crises.” Now, when I’m thrown off by a stinging rejection or a bad review, I see the “self-doubt-demon festival” as a natural part of my processing. I almost welcome it. It means that the system is still working. If it didn’t sting, I’d be worried.
Why? Because self-doubt is part of the growth process. It keeps us humble; it makes us reassess what we’re doing and look for ways to improve. Thinking of it this way helps me avoid wallowing in it unnecessarily. That’s what I mean with my allegory of “inviting the self-doubt demons in for tea.” Self-doubt is an unpleasant, but not unwelcome guest. I let it in and hear it out, but don’t let it take charge. I think practically and follow all the concerns to their conclusions–which generally exposes how ridiculous or irrelevant they are. And when I’m done with all that, I show it the door and get back to work.
Jealousy as a Way to Connect to Your Dreams & Aspirations
This is a very recent one that I only managed to put in words in an offhand comment to my husband this past Saturday night.
You know how sometimes the world feels like it’s conspiring to make you feel a certain way? It started off with turning on my phone after the Sabbath and learning that my sister- and brother-in-law were on vacation in Barcelona–and didn’t want to tell me about it because they were worried I’d be jealous. Well, of course I’m jealous! I’ve been dreaming about traveling to Spain for years! But I’d be jealous anyway; at least let me know so I can live vicariously through you!
So I gave them the contact information for Josep (the long-suffering addressee of Letters to Josep, who lives in the area), and while I was still nursing the jealousy that they may have an opportunity to hang out with a good friend of mine who I hardly ever get to see, I scrolled down my FB feed (NEVER a good idea if you’re trying to recover from jealousy!) and saw not one, but two posts from fellow authors getting excited about their book deals.
You’d think such things would no longer spark my jealousy, seeing as my own novel is finally being published in under two months. But there’s always something. One of the authors in question has an agent and I’m certain she’s signing with a Big Fancy Publisher. The other has tons of connections in the publishing world and her only trouble is producing enough stuff for agents and editors to happily snap up. “Clearly,” my self-doubt demons said, “these authors are the Real Deal, and you, by contrast, are a Nobody.”
As I settled into bed and told my husband Eitan that the theme of the evening seemed to be Things that Make Daniella Jealous, he told me this is why I should avoid Facebook and Instagram; and I found myself saying to him that on the contrary, I think a little jealousy every once in a while is good for me. It reminds me of my dreams and aspirations and gives me a chance to re-explore them.
I don’t want to forget how much I want to visit Spain. That would suck, especially since one of these days I will get to go, and if I forget how much I want it, it won’t be nearly as satisfying, will it?!
I don’t want to forget that I always have higher places to strive for as an author–but that it is my choice whether I want to spend the effort and make the necessary sacrifices to reach them. Reminding myself of these aspirations helps me reevaluate where I am in my writing career and ask myself what I really want my next step to be–and whether those goals I longed for in the past are really relevant to what I know of myself now as a person and as a writer. Jealousy is a somewhat painful, but powerful reminder.
(For more on coping with jealousy, see: How to Not Strangle People Who Are More Successful than You)
Writer’s Block as “Slow Cooking”
There is a ton of literature devoted to coping with creative blockage–and there are many different things that may cause it. I am a passionate proponent of doing what works, and I think these methods can be extremely helpful.
I find, though, that most often, when I feel like I’m forcing something out, what that means is that it just needs more time to “brew.” Creative processes can be slow and build over many years. There are always going to be those obscenely prolific artists who effortlessly churn out amazing work on a regular basis. We can’t all be Mozart. Some of us are more Beethoven. (And between you and me, Beethoven owns Mozart’s pretentious Austrian butt. Mozart didn’t have the emotional complexity of a trombone, let alone enough to achieve the pathos of Beethoven.) (Who? Me? Jealous? Of course not. I’m merely… um… connecting to my aspiration to be prolific.)
Ahem. Where was I?
Ah yes. Slow cooking. When I find myself feeling stuck, I get up and do something else. As I’ve written before, the vast majority of my creative process takes place during meditative, mindless tasks, preferably ones that involve running water. (Like doing the dishes or taking a shower.) Sometimes I’ll put down the manuscript for a while to focus on background research. I don’t think of it as being blocked. I think of it as needing some more cooking time.
What are some other challenges creative people encounter that we might be able to frame differently? How have you used reframing to help you in your creative endeavors? Let’s discuss it in the comments!