As writers, it’s impossible for us to work without definitions. Our very medium requires us to understand how every unit – every word — of our craft contains and is limited by its meaning. But, I wonder, are we also particularly susceptible to limiting definitions of ourselves?
Oftentimes, when I’m stuck, there is a definition in my way. Sometimes it’s actually a word that’s getting me stuck, sometimes a sentence, sometimes a description that’s eluding me. But sometimes the reason why I’m stuck bleeds into something I’m telling myself about what it means to be a writer, or what I’m writing, or what I can write, or should write – some way I’ve defined my talent, or scope, or positioning. I can’t write about blank because someone else has written about it already, or I don’t know enough about it, or it’s just too difficult to pin down on the page. Or I can’t get back to something because I’ve neglected it for too long, or I’ve written more for my Twitter feed than I did on my novel last month/year which clearly means I’m not cut out for this work, or my most dislikable character is starting to look an awful lot like my mother and all my self-preservation instincts are going off. Sometimes the self-limiting definitions I form even emerge for all the right reasons – I want to keep the readership I’ve developed; I want to say something important about something I care about; I want to keep myself on a path I rather like the look of.
But writers are artists, too, despite the fact that we frequently get sidelined in discussions about the arts, perhaps because of this very conundrum, this tendency to both create and define, to straddle the line between unbridled creativity and bespectacled eggheads. Whatever the reason, though, I think we need to be extra vigilant about using our powers for good instead of evil, making sure that our keen ability to name and constrain is not actually cutting our creativity off at the pass.
The good news is that our creative impulse is always there, even if it has to wait patiently for us to dig it out from under all the things we’re telling ourselves about what we should or should not do with it. I find mine easiest to rediscover when I’m driving, or daydreaming, or otherwise engaging my busy rabbit brain with a task that keeps it happily collecting carrots in rows and out of my way. But honestly, anything I can do to trick myself into forgetting my own best plans and wander, instead, where the work wants me to go, is a day when the battle’s won in my favor. I suppose this is as simple as remembering to get out of my own way, and if it is that simple, I’ll accept that gratefully. But if you, too, sometimes get all tangled up in your own leash, maybe it’ll help to remember that instead of spinning in ever tightening circles, you can always reach up and just let release the hook. So simple, so terrifying and, ultimately, so exciting! Where could you go if you went even further and loosened your collar, or took it off? How liberated could you actually allow yourself to be? How much closer are you than you thought to widening the gate and allowing your own best work to come through?
Art: paper sculpture by Geraldine Gonzalez