Archive for the ‘self-doubt’ category

All for the art

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Yesterday, TB and I returned home after having driven over 2,500km just to see a couple of paintings. Yes, we drove to Canberra to see the Masterpieces from Paris exhibition, a collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works from the Musée d’Orsay. You can’t spend more than 30 hours in a car, one full day in Canberra and 3 hours in a queue without learning a few things.

Impressions of the National Capital - Wet

1. When travelling by road from Brisbane to Canberra or vice versa, the longer way is both quicker and more beautiful. According to various maps, the shortest distance is via our National Highway, route 1. Pros: you’re probably less likely to be involved in a head-on collision; the speed limits are higher; the route is shorter. Cons: you may still be at higher risk of having a collision due to the higher number of vehicles sharing the road with you; the 110 speed limit is all very well when you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the outskirts of Sydney; you don’t see so much (unless motorway walls are your thing). The inland route via the Newell Highway may be longer, with a lower average speed limit but it’s a lot quicker, quieter and more interesting (you can see the landscape, wildlife – you know, stuff other than concrete walls and traffic).

2. Canberra isn’t used to being popular. We could not get a car park at any major venue, or even nearby. We ended up taking a taxi from our hotel to the Gallery. Given Canberra is a pretty flat town, we could have walked, but our capital was experiencing unusually torrential rain that day. We could see it was heavier than Canberra was used to – gutters overflowed, gardens dissolved and chaos ensued – but when one local described it as being akin to the monsoon rains seen in Darwin, we had to smile. We weren’t standing in ankle deep water for a start.

We did walk back to our hotel in the afternoon along streets lined with very un-Australian trees. It’s all very romantic to shuffle through drifts of fallen maple and oak leaves, but not so fun when you’re stumbling over vast quantities of uncollected acorns. I commented that Canberra was in need of a good squirrel analog; TB suggested a city employee armed with a broom might be a better long-term solution. Meh.

3. Australians like art. We stood in a queue for 3 hours; others who arrived later in the day waited longer. We did see some people arrive, see the queue and decide van Gogh et al were not worth waiting for. Can’t say if they’re right or wrong; we’d already driven all the way to Canberra and bought our tickets beforehand, so we’d committed ourselves to seeing the damn paintings no matter what, but if we’d strolled up on the day thinking we’d pop in to see a Monet or two, then realised we’d have to stand in line for hours first, we might have opted out.

Note: you can still just pop in and see a Monet or two without waiting and without having to pay; the gallery has a small collection of Impressionist and Post-impressionist works that includes one of Monet’s waterlilly series and one of his Haystacks.

4. A painting can thrill me. The exhibition had over 100 works on display of which only three captivated me. The first was a Monet (surprise, surprise), and I wanted to sit and look at it for hours but couldn’t due to the procession of people queueing past it. The second caught my eye across a crowded room, made me gasp and gave me goosebumps (I kid you not). van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone is a glorious painting made dull by every photo and print ever made of it; had we decided the drive to Canberra wasn’t worth it, I would never have seen how amazing the work really is. The last also thrilled, but not just for the execution of the painting itself. Every self-portrait van Gogh made has a quality to it that makes you stare, and the one owned by the Musée d’Orsay is no exception. It’s the face of a man looking for answers, a man wondering if he’s incapable of contentment, if life is hard or if he just makes it hard on himself.

Left: Monet’s Houses of Parliament, London, Sun Covered by Clouds, c. 1904; Centre: van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone (September 1888); Right: van Gogh, self-portrait, 1887.

5. Emus may be seen in pairs at this time of year. They also eat ants.

6. Junk food is exciting at first, but soon has less attraction than a simple cup of tea.

Now I’m tired, I have aches and pains, and I have a sore throat and a sniffle, but I have seen inspiration as well emus running wild in the rain.

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Don’t doubt self-belief

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Kristin Cashore, author of Graceling and Fire, has a beautiful blog over at This Is My Secret. I had intended this post to link to Kristin’s recent post about the things a writer might consider when finding someone to read their early drafts, but instead found her latest post which talks about self-doubt and self-belief. Kristin was asked to explain how she keeps faith in a manuscript even when it seems to be a total mess and her reply is one worth reading. Here’s a snippet.

‘At every moment, writing is an act of self-confidence — the sheerest, most determined, most stubborn self-belief. You CAN have faith and doubt at the same time; the most insecure writer on the planet has faith that shines just as bright as her doubt, and she deserves props for that. It might be hidden deep, she might not feel it and you might not see it, but it’s in there, or she wouldn’t be able to write.’

Reading this set off a light in my head. I’ve said before that I don’t know how to quit writing, that the thought of giving up makes me cry, but I didn’t make the connection Kristin describes; that every time I sit down and write, I’m reaffirming my belief in what I’m doing. I have a loud and carping Inner Critic and often wonder why I can’t get my Inner Fan to be as vocal. Now, I get it. Inner Fan doesn’t get my attention by screaming at me or jumping up and down; Inner Fan just holds out a hand to the chair at my desk, invites me to put fingertips to keyboard, then sits back quietly to watch, hands folded on belly, a contented, possibly smug smile in place.

Word Dissociation

Saturday, 19 December 2009

You know that thing that happens you say or read or write a word too many times and it becomes nonsense?

Editing means having to read your own work. It’s an analytical process, which means you have plenty of opportunity to be self-critical. Perhaps too much.

When I read a book for the first time (and sometimes the second), I am filled with excitement. I’m curious and intrigued. I’m full of questions. I catch my breath as little details of the character or world are revealed. I marvel at the words, the way they make me feel, the images they put in my head. The author becomes my new favourite hero.

When I read my own work, I see only letters strung together with full stops and commas and colons. There’s no mystery for me in a phrase, no wondering what that half-veiled reference to a secret means. They are my words, too familiar, too ordinary. I can’t see if they will thrill or intrigue a reader. I can’t be impressed.

If the work is one I haven’t seen for a while, I can be surprised. ‘I wrote this? This is…good.’ But I don’t have that luxury just now. I’m editing WiP#2 and these first few chapters are ones I know so well I can quote sentences from memory (and, as TB will tell you, I’m pretty bad at remembering quotes). I read the prologue to TB the other day; he told me it sounds great – what else can he say? – whereas I felt nothing but a terrible sense of uncertainty. Have I made this book better or worse? Have I filled it with dull, meaningless detail? Have I written the life right out of the page?

I realised today that it’s just like the phenomenon of the oft-repeated word. Familiarity breeds contempt, or, in this case, failure to excite. I wish I could erase my memory of this story so I could read it now like a first-time reader.

I might really like it.

Pessimists: Saviours of Civilization

Monday, 29 December 2008

I’ve been intending to write this post for awhile; again, my excuse for being so crap at blogging is that I’ve been very, very dedicated to writing my book. More on that some other time. Right now, I want to talk about the soul-destroying monster that is optimism.

I was talking to The Beholder about my previous post – how I derived comfort from Bill Bailey’s thoughts on the futility of all human endeavour – and TB made an interesting observation. He said he felt the real difference between optimists and pessimists was in how they each look at life. It’s a twist on the old glass is half-full or half-empty thing I’ve not considered before. Optimists look at their life (or their glass) and think how much worse things could be, while pessimists yearn for more, for better things. It made me wonder; are optimists complacent? Could they be the downfall of civilisation?

A few years ago, some scientists went looking for the happiest people on earth. Sounds like a quest from a novel, I know, but it’s true. According to their methodology, Buddhist monks are the happiest, most content, least stressed members of the human race. As I understand it, they achieve this glorious state by yearning for nothing. Longing for material things, for the love or adulation of others, for fame, for power; all these things just make you sad. If you can put these desires aside, you can be happy.

But can you be joyous?

I think not. I think to know real joy, you have to also know real despair. Creativity is unlikely to spring from the mind that yearns for nothing. Contentment may be the death of striving. It is the pessimist, unhappy and longing for a better world, who drives invention, revolution, change. Optimists may be too darn happy with things the way they are.

Fifty percent capacity is not half-full; it’s half-empty, and if you want better things in life, go find the other fifty percent. Want more. Yearn for change. The world isn’t ready for everyone to sit back and give a contented sigh at a job well done

Bill Bailey and the End of the Universe

Monday, 6 October 2008

So, it’s official; as a blogger, I suck. At least, that’s what my friends tell me, and they’re not wrong. In my defence, I’d point out that whenever I am sitting at a computer dragging crafted sentences out of my brain like an Egyptian embalmer pulling brains out through the nose of a corpse, it’s because I’m writing my book. Of course, my blog may, ultimately, end up with more readers than my book ever will, but hey!

I’ve been struggling lately with getting old. I feel like I’ve nothing to show for my life so far and less than half the time I’ve already wasted left to achieve anything notable. Then, Bill Bailey came to my rescue. We were watching his ‘Part Troll’ DVD again last night and his opening line about the universe slowing down and all human endeavour being futile cheered me up a treat. Nothing lasts forever and no one really matters. Mozart, Botticelli, Einstein, Dan Brown; all will amount to nothing in the end. Am I crazy to find that comforting?

Potassium and caffeine

Thursday, 17 April 2008

One of a writer’s many hurdles is self-doubt, often manifesting in the form of a voice that asks “What do you have to write about anyway? What makes you think you’ve anything even remotely interesting to say?” It’s a fair question. I’ve wondered about the answer for a long time. I went to a workshop recently, hoping to find at least part of a strategy I could use next time the voice of my self-doubt piped up. Sadly, I left none the wiser. Then, over coffee and a banana, I started writing the draft for this blog entry and the answer came to me.

If I don’t believe I have anything worthwhile to say, why do I even bother breathing in and out?

This is not a world where only a select few are capable of capturing in words, paint, song, or whatever other medium you care to name, something that has meaning or impact for someone else. It doesn’t take intelligence or finesse; it need not be something that strikes at the core of millions. One person can, by attempting to express themselves in some way, make a profound difference to at least one other person in the world. That difference may last only a heartbeat and be forgotten before the next dawn. It might be a negative thing, an unwitting act, a great and wonderful gift. It doesn’t matter. An insect has the power to make me stop and stare. I’ll hold my breath to marvel at a thundercloud, smile at a rainbow, feel my heart lift at the sound of a wren singing in the backyard. It’s the same when I hear a new song on the radio, or an old one from our CD collection. Sometimes a painting or photograph impresses the hell out of me, and nothing – nothing at all – rivals a good book.

The wide, wide world of the world-wide web is so vast, populated and overwhelming that an ordinary blog written by someone living an ordinary life can seem like a waste of time. I’ve thought so for a while now, and I’ve started to feel the same way about my photographs, my jewellery-making, my life. Maybe it’s just the unlikely combination of banana and a large flat white for lunch, but I’ve had a complete turnaround. What’s more, I’ve realised that even if I loved writing for nothing more than the act of doing it, I should keep blogging. If I left my draft for this entry in my notebook – seen by no one but me – it would be like I wanted it kept secret. Like I was ashamed of it. As long as I’m going to keep inhaling and exhaling, I’m going to keep writing. And yes, I’m going to keep trying to get my work into print too; that’s not something I know how to let go of. That means I have to find a kind of common ground with a complete stranger – an agent, an editor, a potential reader browsing the bookshelves – but by common, I don’t mean bland or so broad in appeal that all appeal is lost. I won’t try to imagine what others want; that’s an impossible quest. Who does the artist slave over a canvas for? Does the photographer think of anyone else at the moment they hit the shutter button?

Who do writers write for?

I’ll always hope someone else will like what I do, but I’ll be writing for me. 

Apologies and Thanks

Saturday, 8 December 2007

I owe my Fairly Fabulous Four an enormous apology. I was wrong to doubt them. I was wrong to worry they were too nice to me. I was wrong. 

Self-doubt – fear – is useful when it stops you doing stupid things like jumping from a rooftop into a swimming pool, driving too fast or touching something to find out if it’s hot. It’s not so great when it holds you back from doing something wonderful. 

Like trying to become a published author. 

All the things I was worrying about; all the things I feared were wrong in my writing; all were based on unfounded fear. The FFF tried to tell me so. Evil-Minded Plot Mistress even poked me with her fork in an attempt to make me listen. Stubbornly, I believed they couldn’t see the deep flaws in my manuscript because they didn’t want to see them or didn’t want to admit to seeing them.  

That’s an insult; they deserve better. 

Yesterday, I received an assessment on the first 80 pages of my manuscript by Australian fantasy author Louise Cusack. I was very excited when The Beholder walked in the door with the big yellow envelope in his hand; then I was a bit daunted by the prospect of actually reading what Louise had to say. I did have tears in my eyes by the time I finished reading her report, but they were tears of joy, I promise you. The news was all good. My mistakes are small ones, easily fixed. My story isn’t dull or lifeless. I’m not crap. 

So, my heart is full of gratitude toward Louise for her time, her detailed report and her encouragement, and to Kim Wilkins for everything she taught me in ‘Year of the Edit 2007’. More importantly, to the Fairly Fabulous Four – husband, best friends and Mum – I am sorry. I’m not joking; I’m really sorry for not trusting you. 

I won’t make that mistake again. 

Louise Cusack: http://www.louisecusack.com/