Friday, February 24, 2012

Writerly Insecurity & Pushing Ourselves Out of Comfort Zones

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

032Last weekend, I was in South Carolina for the Festival of the Arts in the town of Anderson.

I’m originally from Anderson and Jane, one of the event organizers, called me last fall and invited me to attend. She explained that it wasn’t a signing or speaking gig, but more of an exhibit. The artists would be there to talk to attendees about their creative process, etc.

The word “artist” gave me pause, although I frequently use it in reference to writers. This time, though…. “Who is going to be there?” I asked.

“Sculptors, painters, photographers, quilters, woodworkers…” The list went on.

I wasn’t sure. “I’m going to be the only writer there?”

That was correct.

I agreed to go, but remember feeling…well, a little insecure about it. Those other artists are artists! In every way.

Time went by until about two weeks ago and the organizer called me again. “I’m in the process of setting up the tables for the event and wanted to go ahead and plan your exhibit. What kinds of things would you like to bring in?”

I paused. “What are the other artists bringing in?”

“Photography, maybe some woodwork they’re working on or a current canvas they’re in the process of painting.”

I said, “Jane, all my stuff is going to look like clutter! In fact, it is clutter. It’s notebooks and Post-Its and scribbles. The stuff in the notebooks is going to sound absolutely crazy. Besides, most of the writing I do is on my laptop and that’s not going to be very interesting.”

But she convinced me to send along what I had. I put together some of my books, some of my printed rough drafts that I’d marked up with revisions, an ARC of one of my books, and a few notebooks for past projects that had sticky notes scattered throughout and cryptic notes to myself.

And it was clutter! Mine is the center, yellow table in the picture. Jane arranged it as best she could, but there’s only so much you can do with clutter. :)

When I got to the festival last Saturday, I learned that I wasn’t the only attendee to have second thoughts or doubts. Jane told me that a large number of the artists she’d called had told her that they didn’t consider what they did art. Some did consider their creative efforts art, but they didn’t think it was good enough to display. Some were uncomfortable with anyone viewing their art, stating it had really just been done to please themselves.

I’m fairly confident about some aspects of my writing now. I’m confident I can finish a book. I’m confident I can deliver what my editors are looking for (or, if not, that I can tweak it to make it work.) I’m confident that I can fix whatever disaster of a first draft that I write.

But this just serves as a reminder that we’re never really over feeling insecure about what we do, especially in comparison to others’ efforts. And that apparently is true for other areas of the artistic community, too.

Once the exhibition started, though, I think all the artists forgot their self-consciousness. That’s because our audience came in. And they were eager to see what we were doing, ask questions, and enjoy what we’d created.

This makes me think that if we think less about what other artists or writers are accomplishing, less about our own fragile egos, and look toward our readers, we might have a shot of getting past our insecurities.

How do you step outside your comfort zone as a writer? How do you battle insecurities?

I'll be traveling again tomorrow, this time to the Book 'Em Conference in Lumberton, NC. I'm speaking on a panel at 2:00 there with my writing friend L. Diane Wolfe. Hope you'll come if you're in the area.