Last fall, as I was drafting the second book in the Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters trilogy, I read BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert. (Go get yourself a copy RIGHT NOW. I’ll wait.)
BIG MAGIC is tremendously inspiring and comforting, as it looks at the creative process from an almost spiritual point of view. On at least one occasion, Elizabeth Gilbert name-checks Brené Brown, so when I finished the book, I decided to check her out. Boy, am I glad I did.
Brené Brown is a researcher, educator, and public speaker who specializes in topics of shame and inadequacy. Those two have been my jam (and by “jam” I mean “bane of my existence”) for as long as I can remember, so Brené has become like my brilliant, golden, straight-talkin’ angel.
In particular, I’ve read I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), The Gifts of Imperfection, and Daring Greatly. Though the first deals primarily with shame, the second with imperfection and inadequacy, and the third with vulnerability and courage (i.e. how shame and our fears of inadequacy and imperfection hamper our ability to be emotionally vulnerable/courageous), all of these issues are so intertwined that it helps to read all three back-to-back. They are The Lord of the Rings of emotional healing.
I’ve also watched both of Brené Brown’s TED talks on the power of vulnerability and listening to shame, which are among the most popular talks TED has produced. And they’re not specifically for artists, so even if you don’t consider yourself a creative person, please watch them. Because, unfortunately, shame and inadequacy are equal-opportunity tormentors.
Of course, I still struggle, and I probably always will. When you’ve been conditioned to feel that what other people think of you is more important than what you think about yourself, that failing or being imperfect (or even just making choices that don’t meet someone else’s standards) makes you a bad/unlovable/inadequate/shameful person, and that vulnerability is weakness, life (and especially a creative life) can seem joyless, if not completely impossible. I’m grateful I’ve been able to refresh my perspective, whether as a byproduct of trauma (losing my job, being diagnosed with cancer, losing loved ones) or in more benign ways (surrounding myself with supportive friends, seeking therapy, and discovering wise teachers like Elizabeth Gilbert and Brené Brown). But those negative emotions will always be a part of me. I can only do what Elizabeth Gilbert advises, regarding fear — the feelings of shame and inadequacy might always be in the car with me, but I can’t allow them to drive.
I do have a lot more to say about the emotional side of writing, and the topics of shame and inadequacy and emotional vulnerability/courage in particular; how I deal with them, and how, sometimes, I can’t. In some ways, it’s seemed a bit off-topic (the self-imposed topic being “craft”), but it really is an intrinsic part of my creative process, as much as research and drafting and revision might be. So, do you want to hear more? If so, I am happy to oblige.