You’re cursed to loathe a step or two of the creative process, to stare so long at your work that you despise it, and to hear the word “NO” so many times that you feel like a fraud.
But we’re writers, we’re all cursed. You’re in good company.
The Artist’s Curse is a fancy way to say that we struggle with the outcome of our immense effort. Granted, everyone’s process is different but the one, unifying truth is that what we see on the page is not what we imagined before we started working. Close, sure. It might even be “very similar” but the final product is never the exact embodiment of the image we had before we began. That’s where The Curse comes in: it tricks us into thinking we have to change more things, to painstakingly study every single comma and descriptor until we somehow find that elusive perfect picture.
The perfect picture doesn’t exist.
That sounds harsh, right? It’s true: the image in your head is so beautiful, it inspired you to write it down. It begged to come out and in that birth, it was fresh. That’s why you loved it. But then you spent time drafting the idea and revising. Maybe you gave your word-baby to readers, revised from their notes, and stared at it some more. The longer you stare at your creation, the more imperfections you see: a word that appears twice on the same page—can’t have that—and you revise, still chasing the inspiring initial idea because now, the story feels stale.
Your story is not stale. It feels that way because it’s been with you for so long. You spent so much time and put so much effort into the piece that you know it backwards, forwards, and inside out. If someone scrambled all the words around, you could probably put that puzzle back together blindfolded in record time and you hate it.
Creatives have suffered this curse since art began. We’re really good at laughing it off, accepting that we’re doomed to failure, or worse: convincing ourselves we’re not creative beings at all. We need to break this anxiety-inducing cycle for our own mental stability. But how?
Tip 1: Take a break.
Goals and deadlines are super important: they keep us focused and motivated but sometimes, staring at those same several thousand words is so emotionally taxing that we cease to function on a basic level. Pausing to eat or sleep helps our bodies recover but the mind gets tired too. Pick up a book in a different genre, go for a walk, or call a friend. Spend more than a day away from your project to give your brain a chance to rest.
Tip 2: Lean into the disappointment.
If you’re like me, you’re way too stubborn to walk away from a project for a whole day. Instead, open a brand new, empty document or find a fresh sheet of paper. Write a list of all the things you hate about the story in its current form, an outline of what you wish the story was, or notes of areas that frustrate you most. You might try closing your eyes and just rage-slamming the keyboard as quickly as possible or drawing loops until you find a softer, even rhythm. Your project wants to come out and as its creator, you have an uphill battle to find a way to compromise with your inner critic.
Tip 3: Find your amulet.
Humans are creatures of habit and repetition is a tricky beast. Most creatives have a ritual for their writing time; they’ve trained themselves how to access the section of their brain where all the good ideas thrive. Over time, the custom becomes less effective because in teaching the mind to create on cue, we’re also teaching it that exhaustion will follow. Find something you can change about your writing habit every few weeks: different scenery, varying writing times, little rewards for progress, or a different beverage all work wonders for tricking your brain into thinking it’s experiencing something exciting and new. They protect your creative side from assuming what you’ve made is anything less than authentic.
Writers usually have great instincts. We read a lot (like, a LOT) and we can feel it in our guts when some words just don’t sound right. Fight The Curse; accept this self-deprecating moment as the one time your instinct is wrong. You’re not terrible and your story isn’t stale. Your most important asset is the confidence in yourself to know that what you’re working on could be someone else’s favorite piece.
About the author: Theresa Green is the co-founder of The Writer's Workout and a crime fiction writer.