In my last post, I took on the idea that one must necessarily suffer for one’s art and explained why I think this is not a helpful way to look at creativity. Continuing on with this theme of pain and creation, I would like to discuss a topic that may affect some writers, maybe even many writers. I’m sure we all experience some amount of trauma in our lives. It’s unavoidable. People we love die, or things happen or are done to us that infect us with pain that, even when dormant, is still there. Now, when it comes to writing, as I’ve said many times before, we must be authentic, we mustn’t squirm away. But how do we do that when the topic we are writing about brings something to the surface we don’t want to or are not ready to deal with? Sometimes, the decision is made for us with powerful psychological defense mechanisms that clamp down harder than any writer’s block you can imagine. How do we deal, not just with the defense mechanism, but its root cause? This is where one must begin a quest for truth and a truth of the most elusive and difficult to comprehend type.
It’s funny how the oldest advice is still the best and most powerful. As Plato wrote , “Know thyself.” In order to write, I believe one must first acknowledge and strive for this goal. It never ceases to amaze me how people think of truth as something external, something you have to seek. The way I see it, truth is internal and unless you grasp the truth inside yourself then the rest of the world, including your very ego, becomes distorted. Think of it like this: imagine you wear goggles from the time you’re born. They may tint the world green or red or blue. You never take these goggles off so to you, the world is always that color. But this isn’t reality. This is a filter. No matter what information or knowledge you seek “out there” it will always come to you through this filter. Until you question your own perceptions, everything you see will pass through this distorting influence. And boy do we humans love to distort. There are plenty of reasons we do it: fears, anger, unfulfilled desires we may never attain. Yet if we hope to write, we must rip these filters (or defense mechanisms) off and see the world, both internal and external, as it is. Even if to do this requires confronting what is frightening and painful. How many things are there about yourself and your past that you wish were different or non-existent? How many things do you wish you had or had not done? How many things do you hate about yourself or others? It is these things that accumulate like grime and eventually can come to choke your ability to create. In order to really write, to write without fetters, you must look at yourself with complete honesty, dig past whatever has been festering, and find that central pillar (whatever it may be) that I hypothesize all humans have. When you can begin doing that, I believe that you will begin to write with your own voice and to write about what truly matters to you. What’s more, you will write with authenticity and truly represent the human condition so we may know ourselves better. Not only that, once you begin to get past whatever you’re hung up on, you can get back to enjoying what you’re working on. But how does one make the kind of breakthrough to overcome overzealous defense mechanisms?
It would be beyond the scope of this blog and possibly irresponsible of me to go into psychological treatments or anything of the sort. Instead, I’d like to bring up Victor Frankl, Ph.D. the developer of logotherapy, a branch of existential therapy, and Holocaust survivor. Dr. Frankl said in Man’s Search for Meaning, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Essentially, one already has the power to free oneself, it just takes something of a leap of faith to make the choice to move on. It all comes down to a decision to set your own path and not allow anything to stand between you and what you want to accomplish. Is it easier said than done? Yes, absolutely. But if someone can discover such a powerful way to view life and find that human agency is unassailable in the living hell that was a Nazi death camp, then we can certainly make the choice in our own lives to not let circumstance dictate what we can achieve.
In short, choose to write. Choose to look at whatever it is that haunts you and decide for yourself how to respond to it and what impact it will have on your ability to create something that has meaning for you and that gives you a sense of accomplishment. In time, you will find you have regained control of your emotions and mind and are free to tackle any subject you like. It just begins with a choice.