1. Upon which I give advice to someone I don't know personally but who'd publicly posted a request for advice. After hearing a bit of good career news in her own life, she would try to ruin it by seeking out news from other writers, diminishing her own accomplishments.
"this strikes me as an instinctive safeguard that was built early into your process and worked for a long time. it kept you humble, hungry, and striving. our brains process the critical because we've evolved that way -- thinking about how to get away from the bear is much more useful than spending time thinking we're really fast runners. in other words, this is instinctive and good -- but it's turned on you. and even our worst creative processes get dug in deep b/c of outcome bias -- you've had success so this works when, in truth, sometimes we have success despite the flaws in our creative processes. your critical voice and your creative voice should be built in tandem (often not true for the very well educated -- their critical voices are so well informed while creative voices atrophy) -- but your critical voice should always win out. so again there's good in this practice. and i'd also say personally that i no longer get a high from success -- i think this is because i've also learned to numb up from exterior commentary and at all costs protect my relationship with the page. (i've published 20 books -- simon & schuster, harpercollins, hachette, random house...) you and the page matter. the other stuff doesn't. so i think it might be developmentally appropriate that your highs from success wear off. (highs from writing are the ones you hold onto -- tightly). i'm reading POWERS OF TWO a new book on collaboration that you might find perfect to read right now -- and it hits me that you might be searching for camaraderie or competition or collaborative connections -- in this incredibly solitary pursuit. again, these are smart moves in terms of longterm fire (even negative fire) that gets you back to the page. so. basically -- all of this feels natural to me -- i relate. but what you need is to figure out just that one competitor -- just that one -- the one who really inspires you with the command of their work and/or frustrates you b/c they're overrated or you can twist between the two. but only find one. and only allow yourself that fuel when you really need it. and only use it to get you back to the page -- which is then a pretty holy place, perhaps. (i went on so long that this became a process essay... sorry. this stuff fascinates me -- i lecture on Creative Efficiency so my brain is often here...)"
2. A moment in which I wrote to a fellow writer and very good friend (nameless here). I'd just received his novel in the mail and had pawed through it:
"you said it was hard to write -- but you always whine like that. what you neglected to mention was that it's brilliant -- and that's unlike you."
3. After flubbing a question asked by a student after a reading.
... you asked me a smart Q after the reading and I didn't give much of an answer. You know how I sought to overcome my own fairly protected childhood as a writer? I didn't write about myself -- not for a long time. I used my own life -- in bits and pieces -- b/c it was available. What else does one have? But I also wrote about my ancestors whose lives were turbulent and brutal in many ways. I sought out people who'd lived interesting lives. At a parade, an older woman was given an award. She'd been a nurse in the Battle of the Bulge. I looked her up after and interviewed her. My friend's father was a Death March survivor. I asked her if I could interview him, and they both agreed. I spent time in nursing homes, listening. I set up a grant to design and teach a memoir-writing workshop to help elders tell their life stories. I have a desire for lives to be preserved. Basically, I reached out more than I reached in.
To be honest, for a long time, I wasn't interested in my own life and experiences at all. I eventually learned how to write in that way -- or to better forage my own memories but understanding myself wasn't what drew me to writing. I wrote far from myself. It was an escape.
And now, even when I use my own life, it's usually so far from myself that no one would recognize it. And I still draw an awful lot on history. Note the book of poems I read from -- Lizzie Borden in Love. This is a collection of poems written in historic women's voices. Again, I sought to give voice to others. (Of course, it was in writing that material that I learned a lot about myself...)
Anyway, I wanted you to get a smart answer. A thoughtful one. Because the one I gave was off the cuff -- you caught me off-guard. I hope this helps.
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