I have been writing since childhood, but when I became "serious" about it, in college, my relationship to the process became a stormy one. Part of that stemmed from my discomfort with my Blob "subpersonality," the person I became as a child in order to avoid confronting the world. Fiction was an escape for me, a divan for the Blob to recline upon. I dreamed of what I wanted to do, instead of doing it. For a long time, I wanted as much to be a writer as to write. I was in love with my image of what it meant to be an artist. This realization hit me while I was in grad school in creative writing, and it led me to leave grad school and go into publishing, where I could be involved with writers but not have the pressure of trying to be one myself.
I always felt the pressure when I would try to write, or even think about trying to write. My Critic was always there in the background, telling me that I had too little talent or too little discipline, or both. During any period when I wasn't writing, he was constantly whispering in my hear, "See, you're not a writer." He took the joy out of the process, focusing immediately on results, giving me little room to experiment and fail. With his insight, it was far too easy for me to envision where I would fail, so I would quit—sometimes before I even started. Even when I did succeed in completing something, I found other ways to quit, such as by rarely sending anything out for publication.
I was happy not to deal with my own writing during most of the years when my editorial career was taking shape at Houghton Mifflin. For a long time, I thought my obsession with writing was unhealthy, something I needed to give up in order to be truly happy. For a while, I substituted acting as my form of creative expression. But I could never give up writing completely. Something always drew me back. But I lived in fear of my Critic.
This Critic emerged more clearly in a powerful session I had while I was training in an approach to psychology called Psychosynthesis. I envisioned the Critic as a tweady, professorial type, who sat in a Morris chair smoking pipe. He was utterly scornful of my Writer, who was contentedly tapping away at his keyboard, a big smile on his face. I realized that the Critic had been taking the joy out of writing for me since college. I also realized that he was connected with my father, whose impatience so often showed itself when I was doing a task with him and with whom I felt so little room to fail. I also realized that I was carrying on this tradition of impatience with my own son.
The woman leading me in this session told me to become my son, to get in touch with my own inner child. Then she asked me what I wanted from my father. I said, "For him to put his arm around me and say, 'It's all right. Take your time. It's okay to make mistakes. There's no hurry.'" This experience gave me the power to gradually re-parent myself and diminish the negative impact of my Critic, making it easier to write and think of myself as a writer even when I wasn't writing.
But the Critic has not been banished; he has been integrated. In his proper place, he is very useful—in fact, essential—to me as a writer. When I have completed my stories, when the joy and glow of creation has waned, when I have had some time to disidentify with what I've written, the Critic steps in and gives good and fair advice about what could be better. He's become less stodgy, though, for he can even manage to tell me what he thinks is good, sometimes.
So, I now write with greater ease and peacefulness. Writing has become the form of meditation that I've always known it could be. When I write I transcend my everyday experience. Not rejecting "real" life, but simply stepping aside from it and immersing myself in a timeless creative flow. Now, more than ever before, the words seem to come through me, rather than from me, and the experience of being a conduit for them is blissfull.
And when I'm not writing, I'm simply not writing. "No blame," as the I Ching puts it. I feel no pressure to write, but I enjoy writing when I do it, and I know I will be writing for the rest of my life.
6/9/2016 10:05:13 pm
Beautiful piece, Lawrence. So insightful. Inspires me to think about my own Critic and wonder how much she has held me back over the years and what more I could accomplish by making peace with her.
6/10/2016 11:43:59 am
Thank you, Kathy. Coming to terms with my Critic certainly made a big difference in my life. I hope you can do the same.
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Lawrence Kessenich has written in virtually every genre, was a professional editor at Houghton Mifflin in Boston for 10 years, and