26 Simple Ways to Nurture Your Creative Life #21
“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
I did myself a HUGE service as a developing writer and human being recently by checking out the restored edition (2004) of Sylvia Plath’s lauded poetry collection Ariel. This updated edition has a foreword by Plath's daughter, Frieda Hughes, and is subtitled: A Facsimile of Plath’s Manuscript, Reinstating Her Original Selection and Arrangement.
(I also soaked up two autobiographies by Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, my favorite sassy, empowering strong-black-woman artists, so pardon if I start merging the energy of these three fine ladies ~ this happens a lot when I read too many books at once.)
So why the "reinstatement" in Plath's Ariel? Everybody and her momma will tell you that the original version was edited by Plath's then poet-husband Ted Hughes, who at the time changed the arrangement and selection prior to publication.
Mmmhmmm . . . I think his reasons were to make circumstances appear better than they were ~ more tidy and less messy. Less scandalous. Plath's writings near the end were revealing, damning, and sharply emotional. Messy.
So the 2004 Ariel reinstates Plath's intention ~ the selection and order she desired her writings to appear, and (my favorite part), the book also includes a bonus gallery of her work-in-progress pieces showing original scored-out edits, penned-in additions, writes-and-rewrites, and, the comforting reassurance to every writer that “messiness” is a natural part of the creative process.
Yes, Plath's own brilliant writing went through the same process we all go through: Write. Rewrite. Edit. Again. Think about it. Rewrite. Change mind. Edit. Delete. Move things around. Scrap entirely. Start over. Rewrite. Edit. Rinse. Repeat. Publish. Doubt.
S'aight. We're ALL messy. As we should be.
Why? Because creating is a process ~ a messy one . . . just like life is. None of it is an assured A + B = C thing. Well, I guess math is. But process ~ this is what IT is all about! IT is engaging and dancing with multi facet-nating things that arouse us; distilling our thoughts and emotions; mining our experiences; expressing our essence; using semi-colons correctly; and keeping our bathrooms clean.
I started this article back in January, hit writer's block, and put it aside. It's April now — only a couple days after my 40th birthday. So returning to this work-in-progress months after my initial enthusiasm has dimmed, and milestone birthday has passed, induces me to follow Plath's editing lead. I've changed and deleted much of what I originally wrote, and this is my revised version.
See, this is what might happen if you put something aside for too long. You could return to it in an entirely new place in yourself. In a different creative space. The sassy energy from Latifah and Mo'Nique contrasting with Plath's depressive ending has transduced. I can't pick up where I left off because I'm not where I left off. I'm over the hill now and moved on to reading Anne Lamott.
So now I get closure by cutting my losses and moving on. What a messy (and interesting) way to end an article, right? It's not perfect, but that's kind of the point of this nurturing-your-creativity thing. Understand the necessity of sometimes leaving imperfect messes in your creative wake when the energy has moved on.
Yes, sometimes we must pick up our dirty, rumpled socks where we last left them and throw them into the wash instead of trying to wear them again. Not that I consider my writing dirty socks, but sometimes it is a wash and you just have to let go. Plus, a little bit of fabric softener can go a long way.
Of course, Plath struggled with perfectionism, too. Perfectionism and her little sister, high expectations are paralyzing and will keep each and every one of us from getting things done if we allow them to move in.
Sometimes lowering expectations (the oft-ignored cousin) will keep perfectionism from killing off vital parts of our creative aspirations and deadening our will to go on. (For encouragement on working through paralyzing perfectionism, I may suggest spending time with Spills the Modern Day Muse.)
Thankfully, Plath made peace with perfectionism now and then and did get things done. Her published articles and books testify to that . . . well, at least for awhile. In a letter home after college, Plath wrote to her mother:
“I cannot draw well or write exceptionally, but I feel now so far beyond that perfectionist streak which would be flawless or nothing ~ now I go on in my happy-go-lucky way and make my little imperfect worlds in pen and on typewriter and share them with those I love.” ~ Sylvia Plath, Letters Home, March 13, 1956
I too, will now go on in my happy-go-lucky way. I have thank-you notes to write. •
© 2012 Chris Dunmire, CoachingYourCreativity.com. All rights reserved. (4/6/12)
About the Author | More by Chris Dunmire
Creativity Portal® founder Chris Dunmire enjoys working with people desiring to reach deeper, more meaningful levels of creativity, artistic expression, and everyday joy.