Who decides to be a writer? It’s not fun. It’s not always fulfilling. I think there are very rare occasions where I have enjoyed writing. I’ve liked things I’ve written and I’ve been proud of them. But rarely, do I actually enjoy it.
It’s fucking hard. It’s boring. Most of the time all it provokes are feelings of self hatred. It feels like a punishment.
But we carry on, somehow. It sure as hell isn’t anything to do with me. I’m not able to do this on my own strength. Most of the time, I want to throw the computer in the sea. Like go up to a large cliff and just toss this shit over the edge.
But I don’t. Mostly because that would be mental but largely because when I do need to write again, I’ll regret it.
The shitty first draft, as Anne Lamott names it, is exactly that. I’ve never sat down and just had the words magically flow out like in some romantic version of what we think it is supposed to like. Notice, also how I didn’t state this, as “some romantic version of what it means to be a writer.”
Writing that just makes me cringe. Ugh. How pretentious to call yourself a writer!
This is where our Shadow kicks in. The part of you that you don’t want to know exists but you do know.
Your Shadow may look different that mine, but ultimately it’s that part of us, that cringes when we think of ourselves as writers. What I do, is imagine what people are thinking if I introduced myself to them as a writer.
On the outside, they just nod politely but inside they’re like, “What a wanker” or “Dickhead”.
I can’t disagree with them because if someone else were to call themselves a writer, I would think exactly the same. Except of course, I’m projecting. I’m actually just calling myself a wanker. You, wanker!
The reason I feel embarrassed of calling myself a writer, is not because it’s embarrassing to be a writer, but because people will inevitably think that I’m not a very good writer. That’s what I’m anxious about. If it wasn’t writing, it would be plumbing or making coffee or anything else that people do that other people are probably better at than they are.
So what to do with the pesky Shadow? Because it seems that the more I beat it up verbally in my mind, the more it remains ambivalent. Which makes it even more of a nuisance. I beat it up over and over but it just keeps coming back for more. Not in a resilient, “just try me pal” sort of way. Just, an emotionless can’t be broken sort of way.
Eventually, by sheer exhaustion, we’re left to confront it and ask” Ok, now what?! Eh? You win? Is that what you want to hear?”
As it turns out, it’s not. Because that would suggest some sort of emotion is at play.
So in the end, due to some sort of twisted creative Stockholm syndrome, we end up having to make friends with it. That’s where the realisations hits you, your Shadow is exactly that, your shadow.
It’s you. It always was you. It’s the parts of you that feels like a massive prick for wanting to be a writer in the first place.
It’s the embarrassment you feel when someone compliments something you wrote, because you’re trying to protect yourself. Even though you want everyone to think you’re fucking brilliant. You start to realise why you can never win.
So you look the Shadow in the face and you just accept it for what it is. You just accept that you may look like a wanker to some people. You accept that what you’re about to write is going to be horrendously terrible. You accept that you don’t have a lot of natural talent for this and it is going to be a slog. You accept that some people think you are evil personified. You accept all the negative things you think about yourself when you think about being a writer.
You don’t necessarily feel a fuzzy wuzzy warm feeling towards you Shadow, but it’s your shadow and darn it, it’s not going anywhere.
So you stick by each other, in an love hate hate hate love relationship because what this does is free both of you.
Think about it like this. No matter what I write, no matter how amazing I think it is or how amazing the vast majority of people think it is, someone will think it’s the worst thing ever to be inflicted on the human race.
That’s just a categorically true fact. The specific things about what you create that they hate, may vary. They may think you are wrong, or that it is just poorly written or that you have to be stopped by any means necessary, but it’s going to be true every time and you need to accept it.
Then there is another scenario. One that shows us probably the most valuable part of your Shadow; sometimes what you create is going to be terrible. Like terrible in a way that, you’ll actually invent a new way of being awful. You know those people who love things like the Room? You know the phenomenon where things are so bad they’re actually good?
Yeah, even this is on a different level. People will be embarrassed for you. So bad that you really ought to just delete it completely. Tommy Wisseu will even deny knowing you. Yeah, that’s how bad it is.
But it’s ok because you’ve accepted that it’s going to be like this sometimes.
We write because we have this deep beautiful burning itch inside us (metaphorically speaking, otherwise please seek medical advice) that can only be satisfied when we write.
But let’s also be clear. We write because we want our ego stroked. We want to be thought of as a great thinker and articulator. Yeah, yeah I was born to write and I didn’t choose to write, writing chose me, yada yada.
But in the end, I just want to be loved. That’s why I write.
But I’m not going to find it there. I’m only going to find it, when I fully and unconditionally accept that thing I just wrote which even Tommy Wiseau would have been embarrassed by. That’s our shadow. When I fully accept the very worst thing I have created then we’re free.
We’re free to create because we write knowing that it’s ok if it’s terrible. If we accept that, there is nothing left to be anxious about. The acceptance means that there is no pressure on us. Imagine every time you sit down to write you accept that it may be awful.
Now this may seem depressing and detrimental to our goal of creating.
But the part of you that I just described; the part where writing is just something that you need to do, can finally breathe.
It can create what it needs to today. The Shadow is the part of us that keeps our ego in check because our ego is always going to want to take over. Our ego isn’t evil necessarily but it can quickly hijack the work we want to accomplish.
So when we accept the worst of ourselves, no one else can use it against us. If I know my writing is sometimes shit, then it’s not news someone else telling me that it is.
It may not change the world, but now you’re free from the pressure of it needing to change to world.
Then and only then, will it actually have the possibility of doing so.