Grievances

I’ve started The Artist’s Way, to help me write more, which is one of my 2020 resolutions. It’s a self-help book, first published in 1992, which is supposed to people with “artistic creative recovery.” It’s written by a spiritual Christian lady who is also a recovering alcoholic so, to be honest, I’m having a difficult time relating. 

That being said, I have heard positive things about it and I want to follow through with it. It’s designed to be a 12-week long workbook that addresses different issues for writers and other creative types and has you do a series of tasks to help improve your creative process. 

I am doing it over a period of 24 weeks because the 7-10 hours a week the book estimates it will take over 12 weeks is just too much for my schedule. 

The first section in the book asks you to revisit old grievances. Tasks include: “List three old enemies of your creative self-worth” and “Select and write out one horror story from your monster hall of fame.”

Daily you are supposed to write “Morning Pages,” three pages of long-hand, stream-of-consciousness writing that the book helpfully suggests you get up half an hour earlier to do every day. Among other things, you are supposed to list “angry, whiny, petty stuff.” And you shouldn’t be surprised if your Morning Pages are “often negative, self-pitying, stilted, angry or bland.” 

Despite my reservations about the book’s author, I have been genuinely trying to do all of the activities with an open mind. 

Unsurprisingly, I have been ruminating on a number of these petty things and past grievances that I’ve written about during both the Morning Pages and the tasks. Once you revisit these things in your brain, it’s hard to make them go away. 

This isn’t about appropriately processing trauma. That’s really beyond the scope of this book, though the book doesn’t do a great job spelling that out. My grievances in question are mostly shitty comments made by people I don’t care that much about or one-off, ill-thought-out remarks. I don’t need to go to therapy over what some irrelevant person said to me in a writing group ten years ago. I think.

In fact, though, I hadn’t even though much about that decade-old comment until I started to wrack my brain for answers to the task from the workbook. And now I am revisiting those incidences more and more. 

I suspect the book, if it could talk, would tell me that this is because I haven’t dealt properly with these things. Instead, what I’ve done is squish them down to the back of my brain in an effort to forget them, but now they are seeping into my subconscious and ruining my creative process. 

I’m not buying it. I was mocked once at a writers group for not writing literary fiction. I was told once by a family member that my book was the worst thing they had ever read. A high school teacher once told me that I just didn’t have a knack for writing. 

But I don’t think any of those things are true. (Well I wasn’t writing literary fiction, but it isn’t true that that matters.) My fears about writing don’t really line up with these insults. The line between literary fiction is blurry, and, regardless, there’s no problem with genre fiction. I don’t think I’d written the worst book ever produced, though, without a doubt, my first novel wasn’t great. And I’ve been told by many more and better-qualified people that my writing is good. 

I don’t lay awake at night recounting these incidents (which I do sometimes unhealthy do with other things.) I am not especially anxious about writing, as I can be with other things. 

I blame the metaphorical scab picking that the book tasks you with. By revisiting these incidents, in the context of them being grievances, you’re really reliving them over and over. That makes the emotional effects much more raw, as though they happened yesterday, rather than in the distant past. 

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t ever revisit past traumas, or that with substantial traumas, you might never be able to fully distance yourself. Those aren’t the situations here. The book has a number of issues, but starting off with a weird version of “breaking you down to build you back up” is a cheap method of self-help. 

So I am going to go back to not thinking about these bits of history.