I’m Just a Sucker With No Self Esteem

Sometimes creativity is really hard.

In addition to writing thousands upon thousands of words that I can hardly imagine anyone cares about, I also dabble in design and have been trying with varying degrees of effort, but always the same degree of success (which is to say, failure), to shoot a movie.

I don’t know if this is something specific to people who fancy themselves writers, or if it applies generally to all creative folk, but I typically hate the things I make. I gave up a while ago on needing validation from others about the things that I make and do. Despite the fact that other people’s negative criticism is still bound to sting (and, for that matter, the positive criticism to inflate my sense of self-worth) and may affect what I do in the future, the fact is that if I’ve seen something to completion, I did it for me, and that can’t be changed.

(The problem is that in doing things for me, I can’t logically expect to ever be financially successful in any sort of creative endeavor. I’ve come to terms with that and am willing to work a job that doesn’t bring me any joy if that’s what I must do. But I digress.)

Unfortunately, even in creating for an audience of me, I typically despise the end product. I can pick it apart forever, marking this sentence or that line or whatever down as flawed in my mind. Whether I can correct said flaw or not isn’t important; it is in fact entirely beside the point.

The point being, I guess, that I’m crazy.

I’ve never written anything longer form than a feature length screenplay, and even as we speak I’m working out how to fix the ones I’ve “finished” on their next rewrite. I actually got physically ill rereading the first one I wrote in advance of beginning to rewrite it. (To be fair, I think it might have been the combination of lack of sleep and overcaffeination that caused the nausea more so than the script, but they’re still linked in my mind.)

I’ve designed a few websites beyond my own. Visiting them now, even the one that I finished most recently, I can’t help but see every amateurish mistake I made and where I’ll have to tweak the code.

George Lucas once said, “Movies are never finished, only abandoned.” In his case, maybe some of the movies should have been abandoned a little sooner, like before they started production, but the spirit of what he said is entirely accurate across all creative projects, at least from my perspective. I’ve never looked at anything I’ve done and thought, “Ah, perfect!” It just does not apply to me, I guess.

I had a conversation with a friend who’s offered to help me with an upcoming project about my tendency to self-loathing when it comes to the things I’ve made. She does not appear to have this problem, and I did a bad job of explaining it to her; she took it to mean that I assumed everything I did would fail. To her credit, I did say the words “I’ve never not failed” in the course of the conversation, but what I meant to say and how the words sounded were quite different.

This is a problem I have a lot.

This conversation turned into an argument, and I got pretty substantially taken down. I had to concede in the end because my argument such as it was had no basis in anything other than my head.

I don’t really know how to cope with this tendency; it’s entirely instinctual, and I can’t remember ever feeling any differently. Nevertheless, it surely can’t be helpful; even if I don’t have a negative attitude about what I’m doing as I’m doing it (and I sometimes do, which is a whole other issue), denigrating it after the fact isn’t going to win me any supporters, either.

There’s probably some deep-seated psychological or emotional reason for the way I view my own work. Surely someone out there enjoys their own output, someone who sells themselves relentlessly and wants the spotlight enough to take it when necessary.

I’m not that kind of narcissist.

I like to think I have a pretty good handle on my attributes, that my self-judgment is both fair and accurate. But maybe it’s not, at least not about everything. Maybe I am, in fact, underselling myself on the quality of my work. Although I’m unlikely to be convinced of that.

Still, isn’t that better than the alternative? Do the people like someone who’s humble to the point of self-abasement over someone who’s braggadocios to the point of obnoxiousness?

I’d like to think so.

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2 comments

  1. Kristin

    I wonder if the fact that you’re “humble to the point of self-abasement” is in part due to the fact that you’re very good at a lot of things but don’t want to be “that kind of narcissist.” I personally think I am pretty good at a host of creative things. (Writing is one of the things that I feel I’m *not* good at but do anyway, whereas singing is one of the things I know I *am* good at and do anyway.) However, I also know, and will readily admit to anyone at any time, that there are countless people out there better than me at what I do. There’s a difference between being someone who takes pride in their work and being a proud, narcissistic person. I strive to be the former, and those who mistake me for the latter are clearly not worth the time it would take to convince them otherwise. I hope that at some point you will feel that way as well, if you don’t already. And if nothing else, the ridiculously amazing website you’re about to make for me will be so incredibly kickass that you won’t be able to doubt your awesomeness.

  2. Danny Gonzalez

    Nobody cares about your baby more than you do and most don’t care at all, at least within the context you’re getting sick over.

    People tend to characterize your self criticism as boatloads of weakness and then, leap to lack of talent.

    Long story short, put your best into your work. Edit it, finish it, release it and forget about it. You’ll think fondly of it when you rediscover it years down the road.

    Also, shut up and answer the question of whether you can do things simply. The tortured artist routine does not sit well with this new self involved and preening generation of ‘chosen’, lucky, deserving, people.

    Take their money.

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