I’ve been working on a poem lately that has proven difficult. It’s a bit more complex than what I usually write; and to add to that, I’d pre-emptively decided that I was going to enter this poem in CBC’s Poetry Competition. Entries must be between 400 and 600 words…and I don’t usually write poems anywhere near that long. It’s possible to submit a collection of poems, but I just had it so firmly in my mind that this was going to be one poem. With a minimum of 400 words.
So where I usually revise a poem by cutting out all that is unnecessary, I found myself keeping an eye on the word count, adding in things that I knew weren’t really adding to the poem. Trying to make it work. Getting really frustrated in the process.
And then I did something even worse: I went on to the Canada Writes website and started reading through last year’s winning and shortlisted poems. And reading the author bios. And getting really, really discouraged.
Julia Cameron calls it “the critic” in The Artist’s Way. Kim Addonizio simply refers to it as our demons. Basically, it is this sad, scared little voice that sometimes gets very loud, trying to convince us that our creative endeavors are silly, stupid, tired, pointless, worthless, etc. etc. My demons were loud yesterday. I’m not a published author! My poems are not like these poems! I do not have an MFA! Oh god, should I get an MFA? I can’t afford an MFA! I’ll never be published! Give it all up now!
Stop. Stop stop stop stop stop! Step away from the internet!
I did just that. While babies napped and 4 year olds watched a show about crocodiles, I unrolled my mat and did a few rounds of sun salutations, then a few more poses and finally a blissful savasana. Just lying there, feeling my body sink into the floor, watching my mind very briefly go quiet. Then I got up and hugged my kid, made some pizza dough, got outside, came back in, drank a beer, and went to bed.
And this morning, on waking, I knew. Don’t listen to those demons, first of all. Because writing is my life breath; it is so important for me to do. I must do it even if I never get published, never win an award.
And I knew, too, that I must stop trying to write the 400 word poem that will be entered into the CBC Poetry competition. Instead, write the poem that needs to be written. Write it on your terms. Cut out all those extra words that are making it a poorer poem, anyway. It seems so simple but I, and I hope I’m not alone, often get into these rigid places where my mind is set on something and so it must be. It’s useless, though, to try and fit ourselves into a rigid structure that just isn’t working. The outcome will make us feel like shit, and it certainly won’t win any prizes.
Once I’d freed myself of these expectations, I was able to come back to the poem and see it’s truth and beauty. The demons were quiet again, sitting petulantly in the back seat, looking out the window as I let my muse drive the car.
That poem won’t be entered in the CBC Poetry Competition. In fact I don’t know that I’ll enter anything in any competition right now! Instead I’ll focus on writing the poems that need to be written. And if they happen to fit nicely into a box, then maybe. But I’m done trying to force them.
It occurs to me as I write this that these things hold true for parenting, as well. It’s funny how often I see parallels between my writing life and my parenting life. Just as with this particular poem, I get these ideas about how my kids should be, or how I should be as their mother, or how our day should be structured or whatever. And then I just try so hard to slam that square peg into that round hole. And nobody is happy, and it never works. I need to parent the kids I have, the way they need to be parented in each moment; and I need to be the mother that I am. The harder I fight these things, the harder our lives are in general.
It should be noted, too, that comparison comes in to play. Don’t compare yourself to other mothers; don’t compare yourself to other writers. So obvious, but so difficult in practice!
So how about you, readers and writers and parents? How do you shut up your inner critic so you can just do what you have to do?
Image via Flick user TheGabeC. Licensed via Creative Commons.
*This post is a part of the What I’m Writing link-up.