I recently had an email exchange with an artist whose work I admire greatly. She’s an accomplished photographer whose work, in recent times, she feels is getting lost in the swamp. It seems everybody with an eyeball is snapping away with their digital cameras and calling themselves professional photographers these days, just like everybody with an ability to form even the simplest of sentences is self-publishing and calling themselves writers. (Heck, even some folks who can’t form a simple sentence do that.) She says there’s so much good photographic work being produced now, she wonders why she should bother trying to contribute something new?
Well, I’ve certainly felt that way about writing, too.
I remember what Flannery O’Connor said when asked whether she felt university writing programs stifled young writers. She replied, “It doesn’t stifle nearly enough of them.” Snort. LOVE that.
But when I start thinking that way I know it’s because, once again, I’m focusing on things which are none of my business. I’ve come to believe that almost everything is none of my business, to be honest. I’ve had to adopt that philosophy for the sake of my sanity. Other people’s work, what prizes/grants they’re winning, what reviews they’re garnering, etc., are none of my business. What other people think of me is none of my business. The only thing that’s my business is my relationship with my creative source (call that God or Spirit, or, as I do, The Ineffable) and my own response to the world, the people in it, and my work.
Of course, in my less-than-perfect moments, I do get lonely and I despair. ( I also get restless, irritable and discontent.) However, those feelings signal something’s out of whack somewhere, that I’m off balance in some way.
Generally it means I’m not focusing on my own voice, my own path. It means I’ve got my eyes on some other writer’s trajectory.
When I’m spiritually balanced, I understand that the source of my need to write comes from something much greater than me, and is to be honored and approached with faith. I do the work I’m urged to do, to the best of my ability and leave the outcome in the hands of The Ineffable. I also understand that my work is filtered through my subconscious, my perspective and my experience. This means it is utterly unique to me, and no matter how many other people are writing, they are not capable of writing what I write (and vice-versa, of course). So, when it comes down it it, the only useful comparison is between what I wrote yesterday, and what I’m writing today. It is better? Good, then keep going! Is it not quite as good? Then revise, and keep going.
I remember a story I heard about the actor/comedian Danny Thomas. His daughter, Marlo Thomas, was about to open in her first play on Broadway. She was nervous and afraid of what the critics might say. Danny sent a package to her dressing room, containing a pair of blinders — the sort used on horses — with a note saying, “Always run your own race, kid. Don’t worry about the other horses.”