Writing and making art is hard. Everyone knows that.
- Some people (mostly men) say that creating is hard because there is an external force called Resistance trying to stop us from making anything new. And that we must gird our loins and do battle against Resistance by sheer force of will. These men tell us to kick ass and fight to the death and ship at all costs.
- Other people (mostly women) say that creating is hard because we have Monsters inside us trying to stop us from doing anything scary. And that we must take it easy and commune with our Monsters and help them feel safe. These women tell us to meditate and go for walks and journal.
I’ve tried both of these approaches over the years.
I have taped Knickerbocker’s Law above my desk (“Apply ass to chair”). I have hauled myself up at 5 am only to collapse on the guest bed in my writing studio. I have slaved away on a novel much longer than I should have because, by God, I wasn’t going to wimp out and let Resistance beat me.
I have also written morning pages and taken artist’s dates. I have produced shitty first drafts that lived up to their name. I have made boxes that represent my many inner voices.
Neither of these approaches worked for me in the long term. The first one was exhausting, and the second one felt like a lot of busy work. Those were important periods I had to go through, but now I have another theory.
I believe that artists love to be in control and love to feel deeply. And that we try to fulfill those needs by forcing ourselves to suffer.
I’m calling this impulse sadomasochism, by which I mean “taking pleasure in inflicting pain on oneself and in feeling that pain.”
- You feel drawn to write or make something, and instead of doing so, you hold yourself back and take perverse enjoyment in the build-up of pressure.
- You stay committed to some activity you hate, even volunteering for more, and feel the slow burn whenever you do it.
- You slog away on a creative project that isn’t working or force yourself to write or make art when you don’t feel good, and get negative pleasure from the struggle.
You get a sense of power over yourself from doing these things ~ you are choosing and creating your own experience. And you get intense feelings flooding you ~ resentment, anger, fatigue, desperation ~ which remind you that you are ALIVE.
Your unrequited longing to create becomes eroticized, and denying yourself what you really want is the way that you “get off” emotionally.
So many of the messages we get in the creative world reinforce this impulse for sadomasochism. We are continually told how hard it is to write and make art.
And we don’t recognize where we are intentionally making it hard for ourselves because it hurts so good. We are addicted to the drama and we stir it up on purpose when there’s not enough.
The good news is that we can meet our needs for control and deep feelings in a much more positive way. We can put our self-discipline to use saying No to things that don’t serve our art. We can feel alive by experiencing love, joy, and flow.
I strongly contest the truism that we can’t create without pain and suffering.
That’s not to say that writing and making art is easy. But it shouldn’t have to hurt. Check out my post at Scoutie Girl, Making Friends With Resistance, to hear more about the healthy challenges inherent in creating.
And if you are determined to leave your sadomasochism behind and connect with the bliss of creating, I invite you to sign up on my mailing list to read an introductory series of letters on my creative mantra: Make Art. Be Kind. Have Fun.
We talk creative personalities, competing identities, and what gives you the right to be a creator (hint: you don’t have to do anything to earn it).
Okay, now I want to hear what you think. Does what I’ve said about intentional suffering ring true for you?