Growing, Not Grown: The Process Of Being A Creator
There is something rather confusing and profound about writing a story that not everyone gets to experience. It was something I didn’t actually even realize until recently. I was having one of those personal reflection moments—exhausting, don’t get me started on self examination!—and was thinking how I really don’t think of myself as funny. At all. Then I read over a part of a book I’m currently writing and burst out laughing.
Because it was funny.
This did not, for whatever reason, alter my previous thought about my ability to be funny. I still don’t really think I’m a funny person. My characters, on the other hand, they can be funny. Either I am completely disassociated from the reality of my ability to be funny, or I just can’t comprehend my own humor from the seat of my brain, or maybe, just maybe, writing allows for another option. To create something more than you.
Part of the difficulty of sharing your art—let’s be honest, like the biggest damn problem—is the feelings of vulnerability you experience before, during, and sometimes long after. Your creation is a part of you. It was built from your experiences, data that you took in then worked your hands, imagination, and soul around, and then put out into the world. And when you understand that (or even when you don’t) there can be this internal pressure to keep it all inside and not dare let your creation free for fear that it will be judged, torn apart, and with it so will you.
The ego can be so very fragile—or at least, we can perceive it to be. Because for some people, when their ego is hit, they just stop. The feeling is too uncomfortable and they would rather not feel that way than put themselves out there again. Other people, they can do it for a little bit but then reach a point where they can’t go any further.
Maybe they tell themselves the first few creations are practice and with that, they allow themselves to fail, to not be perfect, to accept that criticism is to be expected and it’s not a judgment of them but a sign of where they are in their craft. From this vantage, these people create and they grow. Then comes the point where, for whatever reason, they decide they’re no longer practicing. They’re a professional, or worse, they should be a professional by this point.
Well, if they ‘should be,’ then in their mind they’ve already failed by not being. And if they’re a professional now, they’re not allowed to make mistakes. Criticism is now death; they need to be perfect and everyone should be able to see it. Maybe they struggle through, adapting by losing the love and joy they put into their art. They’re professionals; it’s not about them, it’s about creating a ‘product.’ It’s not a piece of them, it’s a smart pattern repeated to make sales. In this way, they protect themselves from that sting of vulnerability but even though they’re producing, they’re not creating anymore. They stopped, it’s just harder to see.
A Process As Old As Us
Maybe you remember what it was like to be a child, or you have a child in your life that you’ve watched struggle as they grow. The most valuable lessons we learn tend to come with bruises, cuts, scrapes, tears, yelling, and a whole lot of frustration. The more uncomfortable and overwhelmed you feel, the more likely that when you reach the other side, you’ve grown. First steps, to falling off a bike, to first loves, to impossible homework, to breaking free of your parents’ influence—these are everyday, painful, emotional, uncomfortable moments that we traverse to get to who we are today. And to be honest, not all of us kept going even in these common moments. Maybe you got your heart broken one too many times and you decided choosing to be single is better than feeling unloved. Maybe you have an overbearing parent that you feel you can never break free of. Maybe you broke your ankle the first time you fell off a bike and you decided you were fine with only walking ever since.
I was thinking the other day, wondering about just how much pain and uncomfortableness I really want to put myself through. I had been reading about how some authors have someone else read their reviews for them and will sort out the negative comments before letting the author read. To protect them. And I was wondering if that would be something I’d want—and yeah, a little voice did whisper, ‘wouldn’t that just be so nice and easy for a change?’ Then I asked myself, how much pain and uncomfortableness had Hillary Clinton chosen to put herself through to try and reach the goal of being the first female president of the United States?
She failed the first time she ran. Flat on her face, people laughing about that weird Southern accent she was trying to pull off and how stiff and robotic she seemed, failed. She now has hundreds of thousands of absolute strangers outright hating her for being a woman (although few will admit that’s the reason,) as well as screaming for blood over every mistake she’s made from emails, to money earned, to the details of stuff she’s done at her previous jobs—Imagine that the one fuck up you did today at work would somehow come back and bite you in the ass while nearly every person on the planet has an opinion on how you ‘should have’ done it? Talk about uncomfortable.
She invited all of this in to reach her goal, and she knew it was going to be pain. But she wanted it enough to try, which was why she has spent years inviting uncomfortableness in to prepare herself. Speeches, sending people out to battle, foreign policy, arguing for a living. She took on jobs that would prepare her for the big goal and now when under pressure, she makes it look easy. In comparison, Trump looks like a red-faced, frustrated child screaming at the world to be fair because he wasn’t ready for all this pain and uncomfortableness. He didn’t prepare and he hasn’t grown enough to handle the task he’s taking on. But hey, maybe four, or eight, or twenty years from now, that might be different because he’ll have had this experience to learn and grow from—If he chooses to grow.
I’ve come to realize that frustration is opportunity for growth. I spent years making digital art and the majority of that time was not full of success and triumphs and happiness, it was full of frustration. And every time I felt that familiar frustration, I refused to stop. It was an obsession to get past that feeling, to reach some sort of satisfaction in my work and in me. And my art grew so much because of it. Not only that, it showed me a path that I can take and trust to know if I want to improve on something else. I just need to find the thing that frustrates the fuck out of me and pick away until I finally win.
It can be harder with the things that hurt us and make us feel uncomfortable in our own skin. Anger from frustration can be empowering but unease, disgust—icky, icky feelings—tend to drive us away from the source, not towards it. It takes a conscious decision to acknowledge those feelings and still forge forward, and when you feel that gross, you’re usually not making the smart decision but the one full of self-preservation and hiding.
Uncomfortableness is to be embraced as the first steps in becoming more than who you are at this moment. Change is not something that just happens. Change is something we struggle through—some far better than others—where our current boundaries are pushed. And either we rise to the challenge and grow, or we curl up into a ball and stay the same, feeling beat up by the world and telling ourselves this was the smart choice. Hell, sometimes we grow and still manage to feel beat up by the world because even though we survived, we didn’t have the perspective that our failures were to be expected and embraced. Lacking grace in times of pressure is okay (for most goals not involving presidential aspirations.) Not being perfect right this moment and still choosing to pursue the thing we love is more than acceptable.
No one is perfect; we know this. So why do we keep demanding it of ourselves? Because there is a voice inside that will promise like a total bastard that once you are perfect, you won’t feel vulnerable anymore.
Perception Is Everything
Do you know what it’s like to bumble through life as an adult? I do. I know the embarrassment, the frustration, the wish to run and hide, a huge amount of self-anger and disgust, and the beauty of growth and discovery after being able to face all those very ugly, uncomfortable feelings. Ugh, feelings. Seriously. Blah.
Part of how I accepted these very terrible (blah, life-defining, blah,) grown up moments was by reminding myself that I had a late start in life. Battered child, foster care, adopted to sick parents I took care of into my mid 20’s with little thought of actually living a life of my own. Not to mention the chronic depression and emotional instability I battled, as well as surviving an abusive family member as an adult, being homeless, being disabled, being ignorant to so many things because my parents had been too busy dying to teach me. It was pretty damn easy to go, yeah, I’m in my late 20’s now, but I’ve dealt with a lot of fucked up stuff so I’m allowed to not be perfect this moment just yet. I still had the expectation that I would have to eventually reach some sort of predefined perfection that would mean I was an ‘adult’ eventually, but for the time being, it was okay to fail, and make mistakes, and not be good at the things I really felt I should be good at.
Except I’m totally lying. These are the things I tell myself now when I look back from a place of acceptance because at the time, I didn’t accept it. I hated myself every day for not being whatever it was I thought I was supposed to be. Supposed to—The most destructive phrase ever. I could see that I was failing, making mistakes, learning, and growing, but I beat the crap out of myself for not doing it some other way. I accepted my disability in the sense that I pushed myself in every job I worked trying to be able to reach the level of my peers until I would collapse and then have to take a leave of absence to recover. I destroyed myself and set my health back repeatedly because I just couldn’t allow myself to be exactly what I was. Flawed. Different. Human. Growing instead of grown.
I know, what a total bitch. My inner critic just kept trying to destroy me. Thank god I didn’t freeze. Oh, I stopped some days, had those moments of not wanting to go on anymore, but I eventually forged forward, earned my bruises, and grew another centimeter. The problem was I took my frustration of the situation and battled instead of listening to my body and giving it a damn rest already and letting things happen at the pace they needed to happen. I was a rhino; blind to my pain as I did what I thought needed to be done. Still, it wasn’t until now, after having another total break from pushing too hard at work, being homeless again, being struck with Lyme disease, pushing myself at another job until I broke, having the Lyme come back, having my adrenals fail, throw in mold toxicity on top of all that, and finally getting a therapist and daring to share my writing with the world that I finally learned to let some of those ridiculous expectations for myself go.
And damn, it feels good—First uncomfortable, wrong, and hating every moment of it because it went against everything I knew about facing the world, but now it feels good. It’s a process and it starts with pain and uncomfortableness. Like building the muscles in your body, you’re going to ache and be sore and grow tired before you can earn your strength. Then, if you grow strong enough, you start making it look easy lifting that heavy duty weight but only after hours of practice, sometimes months to years of facing the fact that you feel weak as you are now. You have to face that you feel weak before you can grow strong.
I know, it totally sucks.
A Work In Progress
So, what does an actual professional creator look like? For real, I’d say well traveled. Scarred and each old wound has a story that they remember and can tell you about. They have a fire in their belly and a smile on their face because they love the challenge of growing. And although their art might look polished and beautiful and so beyond what mere mortals can seem to ever reach, they themselves are still a work in progress. Because you can’t create without the creator. It all comes from them and when a person is stuck, their art suffers because a stuck person isn’t living their lives fully. These people are professionals at getting unstuck. Some do it so well, they’re sleek and shiny and you know they’re never going to falter no matter how tough things get.
I have seen a lot of stuck people in my journey. I was very good at identifying them because having those sorts of people in my life was toxic to my health. When you’re stuck, you’re trapped and the world feels like a horrible place and the world around you reflects that personal truth. But there was also a time when I was stuck as well. When I lost three parents in one year, there was no way to face that pain but to curl inward and try not to bleed out. It was easy to blame the world for being unfair instead of myself for not doing the work to earn the life I wanted. But being stuck today doesn’t mean tomorrow has to be the same. Eventually, I found my strength, my shields, my bravery, and curiosity enough to uncoil and face some really uncomfortable moments. And my life got so much better for it even with all the new bruises.
As a writer, that was self-publishing and before that, sharing my fanfics for the first time. And before that, daring to write out a sexual fantasy in the first place. I now deliberately read every critical review and make myself feel all the things that need to be felt to help toughen me up for more. I want to do more and if I can’t handle the push back, I won’t be able to create. Lately, it’s been about changing my perceptions on some uncomfortable thoughts about what I’m doing as a writer. The realization that I keep thinking I’m still writing ‘fun’ stories so I don’t have to think of myself as a legitimate writer. Why? Because the bigger you get, the more people out there want to tear you down, hence that toughening up bit. I don’t need to learn to swim in the deep end but I do eventually want to end up in the ocean. I need to be able to think of my work as more than just a hobby, which means a very uncomfortable process of redefining myself—that icky self-examination thing again. Blah.
It’s a work in progress, something that evolves and changes as needed, the same way we do as life happens and the world turns. When we can see it, when we know that the shape of growth, of improvement, of reaching every goal you ever wanted looks like this, it makes it so much easier to accept and prepare. Even if you bitch the entire time! One day, you’ll earn your grace with that strength. Keep going and one day you’re going to have someone tell you how effortless you make it all look.
Perspective is everything. Embrace the uncomfortable; the parts that bring change, the parts in you that can be so difficult to face. It’s the first step in having everything you want, and it’s already everything you need to create something more than you.