Writer Dilemmas: The Monster and the Muse


It’s 4:22 in the morning. I’ve been on a Netflix binge of Good Eats and No Reservations.  I’m bleary-eyed, yawning until my jaws crack, and yet still–here I am.  Here we are. I’m chasing the flickering will o’ the wisp that is an idea.


I Did It to Myself!

Most of those who read this are, frankly, other writers.  I have a few friends who occasionally visit my blog, but my hat is off to my fellows of the pen.  Hence, it is to you that this is directed.  I’ve dealt off and on with issues of self doubt, and written about them here to some extent.  Lately, I’ve been trying to roust myself out of this rut, trying to make something out of this scribbling habit.  I keep hitting a wall.  And its not one that’s built by anyone but me.  I find that I have intentionally missed deadlines for opportunities or jobs on purpose.  That’s right.  I knew I was doing it, knew I wanted a chance at the job or the publishing credits.  I did it anyway.

Now, before you go off on a “We All Procrastinate” rationalization.  I have to tell you that this isn’t your garden variety “I want to watch that movie or spend time with that friend” Procrastination.  It’s a shameless form of self harm.  I feel like I look into my inner mirror, tell myself it’s time to work on that submission or that cover letter–and my reflection takes on a malevolent consciousness.

“No.  You’re going to watch the seconds tick by.  You’re going to miss that deadline, because you know you aren’t good enough, not ‘job material.’ Just relax.  You wouldn’t have succeeded anyway.”


At this point, it’s hard not to hate myself just a little bit for that.  Because I know that, whether I succeed or not–get the job, the check, the publication credit or not–the act of trying, of seeking, of working is crucial to the practice of my Craft.  I’ve talked about rejection, and I know it’s part of the game–so, why do I feel like my inner voice is an abusive spouse?


The Two Faces of Creativity

I realized that the same thing that leads me to imagine looking into a mirror and meeting an independently animated, malevolent aspect of myself is the same creative spark that drives what’s good and bright about my writing.  The same part of me that picks apart my writing–looks at something I was excited about and sees only mediocre copy–is responsible for the initial excitement and fierce flurries of composition.

It’s this that gives me pause.  The monster and the muse are one and the same.  Of course, I only realized this duality after having read an article in my late-night Facebook news feed about how to mute that negative narrator. Because, while a good dollop of self-critique is an excellent thing to have, I don’t want to hold myself back anymore.  I read the words, “author Michael Singer says people [narrate] to protect themselves from the world. If they narrate it in their mind, then they feel like they have more control of what’s happening, but this is untrue.”

But being in my head isn’t about protecting myself from the world–at least, not all the time.  I hear a scrap of conversation or watch an event and my brain starts working.  I don’t want that to go away.  What I’d like to root out is the part of that behavior that runs ahead and depicts how stupid I’ll look if I submit “this garbage” to a publication.  The thing I can’t quite figure out is how to separate the two.  I want to not malign genuine laziness by using it to cover my cowardice, my fear of failure of looking stupid or cloddish.


Company on the Threshing Floor

I think what I would like, more than anything else at this late hour, is a little feedback from you.  Have you ever felt like this, or faced a similar dilemma?  How do you balance your writing and the suite of associated behaviors with moments of self doubt, when you may fall prey to your own luxuriant imagination, cutting dialogue, vivid imagery?  How do you separate the kernels of legitimate self-assessment from the inedible hulls of fear, self-doubt, or  low self-esteem? I ask because I want to find an effective way to push myself through those moments, to change that pattern of fear-driven procrastination that I have developed.

In closing, perhaps all of this is due to the late hour–or the fact that this week has been studded with projects that I worked on and very nearly left unsubmitted because of  that voice that drips sarcasm and derision,  that self-critique that is unbalanced and without perspective.  It is the voice that agrees with my family that I’m a deluded failure, and I should stop playing around and get a real career.   It’s true, I should stop “playing around,” but I don’t want to give up on writing.  Another part of me whispers that that’s important, tat this is a role I’m meant to fill.  How do I push past procrastination that isn’t laziness, but fear? How does one make a habit of being brave?









2 thoughts on “Writer Dilemmas: The Monster and the Muse

  1. I believe this is probably more common for individuals who hold a deeper appreciation for great works of art. It’s hard not to set a standard of perfection based on perceived perfection. This is where I would question what perfection really is. Perfection for a musician in a popular symphony orchestra might be very different than perfection for a musician in a high school orchestra. Both might be their best for their level and at that particular moment in time. To me, there can be beauty in each. Now, that being said, there is strength in numbers and a group performance can be very different from a solo performance. We can mask imperfection within the group but highlight it when going solo. Under must circumstance though, there is never a true solo performance. We don’t have one piece of art to look at. We don’t go to a comedy club and see one comedian, or go to open mic night and hear one performance. We don’t have one book to choose from or one poem to read. And with that variety, there will be levels of perfection interpreted differently by the masses.

    For the artist, there will always be something better and something worse, and a true artist should find beauty in it all, if for no other reason than appreciation of the genuine effort of those who have a love for a particular art. That belief is what helps me be brave and put myself out there (ok, that and statistics, but that’s a whole other ramble on the world according to Bill).

    Great topic Erin!

  2. You asked for feedback, and I can only come from the perspective of a fellow-sufferer.

    The inner critic.

    When I was starting to do the blog a year ago, this was a big problem. I ran across the following, and pass it along. It helped:


    But. But.

    After reading “The War of Art,” by Steven Pressfield ( http://www.stevenpressfield.com/the-war-of-art/), I realized something about myself. His idea is that something he names “Resistance” is the root of all creative evil. But I — and I suspect from what you say, you– would prefer to see this Resistance, or that bastard Inner Critic — as something more grandiose than he/she/it really is. I certainly liked to build it up in my head to be something monumentally powerful. Then, when I failed to overcome it, no one could blame me. “Pfffffft,” Pressfield taught me to say to myself. “Quit taking yourself so seriously. Resistance is a liar and a ruthless foe, to be sure, but like all bullies, folds if you refuse to run and turn and kick him in the nuts.” (I’m paraphrasing.)

    I still have trouble every day, but when it gets really bad, I pick up “TWOA” and read a couple of chapters again. If you haven’t picked up a copy, I recommend it.

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