In prior posts, I have dealt with the importance of having a personal philosophy of writing. The elements of any writing philosophy must stand above a general preference for particular kinds of ideas for short stories and novels. More important, those elements should transcend considerations of writing technique such as plot, setting, characterization, style, and so on. All writers need an integrated package of powerful ideas geared towards such practical considerations as establishing productive work habits, maintaining standards, dealing with “writers block,” taming the inner critic, and just plain coping with the unforeseen.
In this post, I want to supplement my earlier ideas by putting forward some thoughts on how to deal with the problem of impatience.
Impatience vs. the Artistic Sense
A primary characteristic of many creative people is the tendency to engage in a lot of inner bickering. In most cases, the habit is an internalization of a chaotic home life when we were children. (Who says lousy parenting is bad for us?) While quarrelling with ourselves may be creatively constructive in many ways, there are some situations where it can work strongly against us. One of those situations occurs when aggressive impatience is provoked by a stalled or slowly progressing piece of work.
If we are to maintain productivity, it is important to understand what happens when we become impatient.
Few things spark more frustration and inner turmoil in creators than the inability to make decent progress with an emotionally important work-in-progress. The Sisyphean happiness of even the deeply committed artist can be marred if the rock simply will not budge. Artistic vision crumbles in the face of a growing list of self-criticisms. Once we have turned on ourselves, the temptation to look for shortcuts or quick fixes becomes strong. Faced with this challenge, idealism, perfectionism, or (more constructively) simple integrity may step forward to stand squarely in the way of any lowering of standards. Then again, we may consider abandoning the original vision in favour of some revised version that seems more within our reach. Yet much creative work is driven by potent personal images or the desire to recreate a treasured subtle mood. When these are threatened, there is a steep emotional price to be paid. We have reached a critical juncture. War has broken out between an impatient desire to see results on the one hand and our emotionally important artistic sensibilities on the other.
This where we have to be philosophical. The entire scenario is driven by feelings so we cannot dig our way out of the nasty mess by making arbitrary conscious decisions about what to do. We must come to terms with our aroused emotions by understanding what is happening. The trick is to remain calm by striving for some level-headed detachment. Emotional literacy is definitely required.
The first thing to do is sort out what is coming from where so we can distinguish between the more important things and those that matter less. The nagging inner critic is a nuisance product of ego. We criticize ourselves when we are not living up to the exalted standards of our splendid false personas. Naturally, our idealized selves are not accurate and recognizing this can allow us to discount the self-criticism by seeing that it is neither warranted nor realistic. Next, we need to remind ourselves that idealism and perfectionism are counterproductive in the creative context. Like our false personas, they are pretentious and get in the way of seeing our humble (but worthwhile) work in an honest and objective light. In fact, an inaccurate assessment of work done so far – its direction, quality, or quantity – is a primary cause of impatience. We may actually be rolling the rock much farther than we think.
What we should pay attention to is our sense of artistic integrity, our genuine feelings about what constitutes good or bad work. For this, we must look past self-destructive negative thinking and the bad feelings generated by frustration. Taking the time to survey the work while paying attention to inner stirrings of resonance or delight can give us a sounder assessment of where we stand. Watch out for signs of associative thinking while carrying out the appraisal. These clues from the unconscious can be extremely illuminating and instructive. Our fortunes prosper when we try to discern what we truly want rather than focussing on what we think should be happening.
Gestation periods, so important to the creative process are a major source of frustration and impatience even among experienced creators. We may think things should be moving on when in fact we have reached a stage where the mind needs to work a few things out, usually by gathering more information or waiting for new experience to fill in the blanks. To be fully aware of the gestation phenomenon is to be forewarned against making damaging responses to dormant stretches.
Finally, it is useful to recognize the vital importance of the subtle moods and powerful images we try to incorporate in our work. Understanding that any attempt to jettison or alter these really is going to make trouble will allow us more easily to preserve them in the midst of inner bickering. In other words, we are less likely to consider self-destructive courses of action if we know what truly counts.
In summary, the best way to battle impatience is by having a thorough understanding of the creative process, developing a reasonable degree of emotional literacy, and assembling a sturdy and practical philosophy of writing.