Willing to Be Bad

I’m reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In fact, I first read it years ago. Maybe you’ve heard of it, if you’ve been involved with the artsy community in any way. I think I bought and read it maybe fifteen years ago.  The book’s subtitle is “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” and its tagline is A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self.

It has some good stuff in it, but also lots of weird stuff, for though she talks about God and seeking out the “Great Creator” to find one’s own creativity, this is not a Christian book. And years ago, I only made it  about halfway through before I got too annoyed by all the New Age gunk and put it aside. Later I took it to the used bookstore.

About a month ago, I got down the journal I’d kept during that time, one that goes with the “course.”  Part of that course is to do morning pages — three pages of handwritten, stream of consciousness material, done first thing upon rising every day — and this journal had some of those morning pages, plus a lot of quotes from the book as page decorations. I was surprised by how doctrinal they were. Here’s a couple, in italics, with the verses that say the same thing (not italicized).

“I am a channel for God’s creativity and my work comes to good.”

“I am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

“For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to execute for His good pleasure.” Phil 2:13

“My dreams come from God and God has the power to accomplish them.”

“Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.” Ps 37:4,5

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything you may have an abundance for every good deed.” 2 Co 9:8

“There is a divine plan of goodness for my work.”

“I am willing to let God create through me.”

“Faithful is He who calls you and He will bring it to pass.” I Th 5:24

You get the idea. Having recently been shown that God is able to use evil priests (like Caiaphas) and donkeys (Balaam’s ass) to communicate truth, and having experienced His ability in using unlikely sources to speak to me personally, I decided to buy a second copy of the book and give it another shot.

And today, in reading an early part of it, I found this:

“Remember that in order to recover as an artist, you must be willing to be a bad artist. Give yourself permission to be a beginner. By being a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time, a very good one.”

Whoa!  Did that bring back memories! I know this. I know it from painting and I know it from writing.

Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird :

“Why I encourage really, really awful first drafts is because this is how every single real writer I know writes. My students have this illusion that good writers sit there as if they’re just taking dictation and it’s coming out fully formed. I believe that perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor and the enemy of the people. It makes it impossible for us to get anything down. As soon as you can break through that need, and just let yourself write whatever comes out, knowing that no one’s reading over your shoulder, knowing you can go through and start to shape, cut stuff out, save it for other projects… winnow out what the real structure and the real story is that you’re attempting to capture, then you’re home free. Sort of.”

I saved this quote in a special book along with a number of others from other writers, all advocating the same thing. You must be willing to let it be bad.

In that vein of thought I realized that by trying to get everything in the story and the world and the characters worked out and logical and ready before I could move on in Chapter 1, I had hamstrung myself. That’s not even how I work. The moment I gave myself the permission to just go forward, letting it be awful, illogical, with stupid dialogue, lame characterization, inscrutable or nonexistant motivations, inconsistent, arbitrary world building elements… something seemed to release inside me. My interest perked up. Is this the key? Is this what I needed to see?

I don’t know. I’ll know better in the morning. But things suddenly seem hopeful. I am SOOO sick of laboring over the first three pages of Chapter 1, the whole of which is already written, albeit, ahem, badly. The thought of just leaving it and moving on is rather exciting.

3 thoughts on “Willing to Be Bad

    1. karenhancock

      Thanks for the link. Interesting article. Self-doubt is such a huge hindrance in writing. Doctrine has helped a lot, and I think this time through The Artist’s Way is going to be more helpful than it was last time, in part because it seems to be somehow pointing to the relevant doctrines needed to apply to areas of struggle. Today I had a breakthrough on something that I’ve encountered in numerous artsy type, secular books on writing and art… which is going to be the result of my next post, so I guess I’ll go get it put it.

      Thanks for your comment, KC.

      Reply
  1. Steven Fivecats

    I found this post to be right on. For a very long time I thought if I didn’t put out perfect stories, poetry or art that I really wasn’t any good. My view was that good artists and writers were good from the get go. Thanks for sharing this, because I needed to hear it today. I’ve kind of fallen back into that old habit of “it’s not really good” thinking. Thanks for the uplift.

    Reply

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