Occasionally you’ll start seeing “Author Talk” in the subjects of my posts. Those will be the posts where I’m not reviewing or talking about books. Rather, I’ll be talking about being an author. I’ll start weaving them in here and there, probably not too often, but on the occasion. If you’re all, “Hey Sarah, what the hell are you publishing?” Well, check this link out.
Anyway, I was in a conversation with a bunch of writers a while ago about how solitary writing is, and how we so often get stuck in our own heads, and then we sort of just eat ourselves. It turns into a vicious cycle. The fact that we are often our own worst critics doesn’t help the matter. This results, in someone like me, with a whole lot of festering self-doubt, and a truckload of inferiority complex which I devour alongside a dinner of “why do I even try?”
I end up looking at everything I produce and questioning its validity or its worth. Why should it exist? It’s not worthy of being born.
The thing is, I went through this with my photography, too. There’s a lot of solitary time in art, a lot of being stuck in your own head, trying to translate what you see into a medium that others can understand, enjoy, or appreciate. As an editor, I come across the gap in the work I edit quite often – the author sees the scene so clearly, but something gets lost in translation and that scene might not come across to me the way it should. It’s not a lost cause, we just need to dig around a bit, author and editor, and find the missing pieces. I help them figure out how to bring their vision to life in my mind.
In photography, I am freezing moments in time, and I am trying to show to you the exact way the world was at this one moment, in only the way I could possibly see it, because I am the only me here.
We talk about echo chambers a lot right now. The liberal echo chamber, the conservative echo chamber, and what have you. What we don’t really talk about as much is the artist’s echo chamber. You know, the one we create in our own minds and souls, the one that sort of turns into a place where, in me, it is filled with self-doubt, eternally questioning my worth as an artist and the things I produce. We don’t talk about how it is absolutely necessary to be locked in your own soul, your own mind to produce, but sometimes the solitary nature of producing art can be a double-edged sword. It is necessary, and it consume us, if we let it.
When I started making my way in the photography world, I realized what was happening. I saw everything I produced as a product of an inferior mind. Everyone else was so much better at it than I was, so why try? I love photography, but this incessant self-doubt, this constant questioning was doing a few things for my art. First, it was making me hate the art of photography. Secondly, it was causing me to stop wanting to try to improve my art, or even try my hand at it at all. When I realized what was going on, this vicious mental cycle I was in, I knew I had to break it or I’d lose my photography forever. I joined a professional website where I showcase my best art and get insights and feedback from it. This has resulted in me not only improving my craft, but the constant thumbs-up and comments from other photographers have really kept me loving what I produce, and seeing that it doesn’t just have value to me, but value to other people as well.
It helped me realize I am not an echo chamber. It has helped break through my negative self-talk.
Oh, it’s still there. Of course it’s still there, and there’s a value in realizing that art is never perfect. It can always be improved upon, but there’s a point where that voice chokes the artist, and sharing my art was that thing that helped me break the stranglehold my negative echo chamber had on me.
It’s scary to take a chance, to put yourself out there and say, “This is something I made. Me, and me alone. Whatever is right, and whatever is wrong, is on me. I own this. Here, world, judge my craft.” There is truth in the old words – once you put art in the world, you no longer own it. That vulnerability, that loss of control, it’s terrifying. We do not like to expose our underbellies to the world and sit idly by while the world savages us.
But that’s also what makes art so potent. It’s that belief that whatever you’ve created, it has value outside of yourself, and deserves to be birthed into a world that could be made better by its presence.
Anyway, I noticed my echo chamber was getting nice and warmed up with my writing, and with a book coming out, I just can’t afford time wasted mired in self-doubt and insecurity. I am going to put words into the world, and I need to own that. When this conversation about “inferiority complex” got fired up with some author friends, I realized that I was starting the process. I would devour myself, and if I kept staying locked in my own head, staring at all the things that make me worse than every other author out there, I’d never achieve my dream, and my book, my words, this part of my soul, with wither on the vine.
I remembered my days in photography where I was questioning why I even try to hold a camera because obviously I absolutely suck at it, and how I broke through that. I broke through it by sharing, by taking a chance, and putting myself out there. I broke through it by refusing to let myself stay locked in my echo chamber. I took a risk, and I showed my art. Some have failed, some have had great results, but I did it, and I learned a lot, and I’ve continued improving, and loving my craft.
I decided to do the same thing with writing. More, I realized I had to. To break through my echo chamber, I must share.
Each day, after I go through some revisions, I find a snippet from what I just revised that I am stupid-proud of. I pretty it up with a picture that somehow fits the excerpt, and I post it online. Not many people seem to see it, even fewer people care, but it helps me immensely, to see something I’ve created in the world, getting the occasional thumbs-up, sometimes a comment. It’s a trickle, but it’s enough to realize that my art has value outside of myself, enough to survive on its own, and someone, somewhere, liked it enough to read it.
That pushes me. That keeps me going. That curbs the dark voice inside whispering to just give up.
So my big advice, as an artist, as a person who peddles in the act of creating in various mediums, is to take a risk, and always, always stare something you’ve made that you’re proud of in the face each day. Remind yourself of your worth, and your ability, and keep pushing. That dark voice is always there, whispering “why try, so and so does it so much better than I could ever hope to,” but it isn’t quite so loud or hungry for my self-worth anymore. My daily snippets have helped me immensely, not only in my value as an author, but also it’s kept me pushing forward, and realizing that my dream is attainable, despite all of the “You can’t possibly think you’re capable of doing this, Sarah….” that I’ve got singing in my skull.
We aren’t kind enough to ourselves. Being kind is a risk. It’s scary. Just as scary as making ourselves vulnerable, in its own way. Be kind to yourself. Dress what you’re proud of up, and make yourself look at it. Cut through that echo chamber however you need to.
The world is a dark place, and we need more art in it. Flatter yourself, and keep pushing on. Do something nice for yourself each day. Shake hands with something you’ve made that you’re proud of, and show it off.
After all, you are the only one who can make what you made the way you made it.