Writing vs. the threat of eternal damnation

There’s a lot of talk going around about motivating yourself through positivity, through rewarding yourself and being kind to yourself. Finding what’s working in your writing and your habits and cultivating it rather than beating yourself up for what’s going wrong. Celebrating your successes, not dwelling on your failures. I don’t dispute the wisdom of this approach—it’s wonderful, it’s useful, and I’m sure there are reams of research supporting its effectiveness. I use it with my own children, and it works (sometimes). But then there are people like me. People who were raised on the sarcastic quip, the sharp aside, the threat of eternal damnation. People who pondered their own worth in dim chambers under the glow of stained glass, with a cheek against a cold stone pillar and a voice echoing from the vaulted ceiling, speaking of our intrinsic unworthiness. People like me will not often respond to positivity. Positivity takes our motivation away. We think: If you don’t think I suck, what do I have to prove? If I have nothing to prove, no failing to make up for, why should I do any work? If I’m good, kill me now!

If you’re like me, no amount of believing in yourself, no extent of reward, will get the most out of you as a writer. You need fear. Not the light at the end of the tunnel but the black at the bottom of the pit out of which you are trying to claw your way. So to break the cycle of Minesweeper/coffee/Ramones official website, as I finally did this summer, you need the threat of failure. What finally got me going was this thought: If I can’t write now, when the conditions are perfect—grant funding, no kids underfoot, nice quiet studio—then I’ll never write.

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