The woman with wavy red hair and painted lips stood in front of a life-size, watercolor John Wayne. She leaned her elbows on a case of vintage turquoise and baskets of silver.
“I learned the hard way,” she said, telling me how she’d quit three waitressing jobs to take a gamble on supporting her kids as a stunt double. How she’d tried to make it in Nashville and misunderstood the rules on her way to writing a Country Song of The Year. (Never know who you’ll meet in Taos!)
I’d just finished telling her how the anxiety of waiting for feedback on my first book was making it hard to focus on the new project I’d just begun.
She’d nodded, empathic, and smiled as she told me to “let go of my ego.” And repeated that phrase: Trust yourself.
The words seemed to strike at the heart of where my head’s been lately—or rather, where I’ve been trying to get it.
Here’s one suggestion: if you’re setting out for a day of novel-writing, try not to begin it by reading this article. And try not to take personally the endless stream of rejections, or the news of diminishing, risk-averse publishers, or the emails that talented friends receive in which editors lavishly praise their work before, mysteriously, taking a pass. In other words: shut your eyes and ears.
I’m trying. Switching over to a data-free flip phone, circa 2006. It’s a step—one I imagine will send me into something like heroin or sugar withdrawal before setting me, hopefully, a little more free.
But the noise won’t go away, since most of it is in my own head.
The endless, boring self-doubts: Is my story worth telling? Are these sentences any good? Will anyone ever read them? Should they?
It’s perhaps unsurprising that at an artist colony, (if that term eludes you, see this) the question arises: why do we make art? In a climate where the prospects of one’s work ever meeting the world feel so bleak, the query takes on a sharper edge. Without faith that our writing will ever be seen, what should motivate us to get up in the morning, put our heads down, silence the noise, and get to work?
“What if your writing wasn’t appreciated until after you’d died?” V, a British artist and filmmaker and my neighbor at the residency, serves as both collective muse and spiritual guide. She meditates for hours a day.
Across my kitchen table, another neurotic writer from New York and I exchanged a wary glance.
“Sure,” we both muttered.
“But I mean…” I hesitated. “It would kind of suck.”
V summoned us to think of everything in the world as connected, to detach our self-worth from our art, to fulfill ourselves with the process instead of it’s end.
The next morning I took a break from the novel and dashed off a comedic story, feeling smug that I’d actually found pleasure in the writing. And the day after that, I could hardly wait to share the piece and send it into the world. So much for process.
When I left the stuntwoman/country singer’s shop my eyes were wet with ambiguously derived tears: or maybe not so ambiguous. I’d managed to get through two days of writing that didn’t make me totally hate myself, and then ruined it with an abrupt panic over my first book’s word count. (iPhone: be gone!)
I walked to the indie bookstore and listened to an employee explain to a customer that, yes, it was easy to click the button on Amazon and writers could release work there, but they’d never get paid. I bought a book. Across the street I plopped myself down at a diner and ordered an oversized breakfast burrito. (Just, because.) Outside, small pebbles of hail fell from the gray clouds slipping west over from Taos Mountain.
I pulled out my notebook and pushed myself to answer that question: why?
All of my answers felt like tired clichés. For the fun of it. Because it helps me make sense of things. Because I like it! Because, as Alison put it the other night on the phone, I don’t really have a choice?
Flustered, I remembered those words—Trust Yourself—and decided to resolve that, for the moment at least, they serve as answer enough.