Today, we’re going to talk about The Others. Nope, not those people from Lost who walked around at first in regular looking clothes and then wore burlap bags—or about the feeling of “otherness” we writers sometimes (oftentimes) feel. But about—others—expectations outside of ourselves. Expectations, desires, and even our own projections as seen from the outside in.
In Art & Fear, our text for the last month and for all of June as well, David Bayles and Ted Orland write:
The problems arise when we confuse others’ priorities as our own. We carry real and imagined critics with us constantly—a veritable babble of voices, some remembered, some prophesized, and each eager to comment on what we do. ..As an artist you are expected to make each successive piece uniquely new and different—yet reassuringly familiar alongside your earlier work. You’re expected to make art that’s intimately (perhaps even painfully) personal—yet alluringly and easily grasped by an audience that has never known you personally.
When the work goes well, we keep such inner distractions at bay, but in times of uncertainty or need, we begin listening. We abdicate artistic decision-making to others when we fear that the work itself will not bring us the understanding, acceptance, and approval we seek.
(Chapter IV, page 37-38)
Hmmm…many of us, those that are published or agented have an “official” Other. We have an editor, an agent, or both. Or many. We publish with more than one house, our editors move to other houses or leave publishing, agent/author relationships may end and new business relationships begin. It can be—if we let it—be to our artistic detriment. So how then do we keep the worries about Others out of our work, when as Bayles and Orland stated THE WORK isn’t going well?
To be honest, I am not sure. I have the voices of Others—well, the imagined voices of Others in my head, because those in my artistic life are thankfully supportive. One esteemed Other said to me recently, “Write the book you most want to write. The one you are afraid of writing.” And also encouraged me to “use your gifts of voice and dialogue” in doing so. I was given a task but the direction and the outcome are all up to me, so why do I feel so afraid? I could say, because this time it matters, this is a make or break point in my career, that I want to be more widely read, touch more lives, etc. But I have had similar fears at all stages of my writing career—if I get this first book—publishing the next will be easier. If I make this list, I am all set. Basically, it is all baloney. And my baloney has a first name—f-e-a-r, fear.
So I keep learning. I have learned not to negotiate with fear but to let it just sit with me while I work. I don’t pour it a cup of tea, nor do I berate it for being there—I simply try to welcome it and when I let it take a seat at my table—somehow, thankfully, the invitation has some of the fear—the most strangling kind—evaporate. And the fear that is left—the water in the boiling pan—helps me churn my work into something I care about.