Saturday, September 4, 2010

Creative Innocence versus Creative Resistance

It's September again.  Crisp school supplies, clean classrooms, launching into a fresh cycle of learning.  September for me is about being a beginner, as much as possible.

In fact, it's something I try to cultivate at this time of year.

Most of us resist not knowing.  We hate being seen as rank beginners.  We love being seen as
competent.  Maybe because we've worked so long to garner wisdom, as we age more, we push harder against innocence.  We could look foolish.  We could lose our good opinion of ourselves.

For ten years, I collected brochures for MFA programs in fiction.  I wanted badly to go back to school, even though it went against my stable lifestyle, my good job, my publishing credits.  It would require becoming a beginner again.  Almost everyone in my MFA class was half my age.  It was agonizing to know so little, to make so many mistakes.  But the learning was magnificent.  It felt like opening a fresh notebook in September, each time I ventured into one of the classes.  My creative innocence was more than inspired.

Being a beginner, so obviously, relieved me of the horrible burden so many of us carry around--the burden of having to appear like we know what we're doing.   What a relief to be wide-eyed and innocent (read: ignorant) for a change.

Trying Something New--Now!
September is a good time for creative innocence.  I try to sign up for a workshop or a class each fall.  Last year I was brave enough to join a group of total strangers at the coast to paint for a week at a marine science center by a rocky beach.  Boy, did I have plenty of foolish moments during that experience, but although I came home humbler, I knew I'd learned much.  And I still love the two paintings I did, even framed them to hang on the walls.  There remains a sense of pride that I stood taller than my own creative resistance.

What are you doing this month, to foster your creative innocence over your creative resistance?  What dreams have been festering inside, unable to surface?  Maybe it's time to try something you're nowhere near good at.  Time to fail a bit, be a beginner again.

We're having beautiful weather in New England this Labor Day weekend.  The threat of Hurricane Earl passed with only a little rain, and the heavy humidity of these past days is replaced by breezes and sun.  The garden calls--but the garden is where I feel most competent.  The sunshine this morning gave me courage to do something I am not very good at:  work on another chapter of my novel-in-progress.  I balked, I ate a huge bowl of dessert left over from a dinner party last night, I chatted with my spouse for a couple of hours.  But then it was time.

The novel grabbed me--a tough scene needed writing and because I said to myself, "I have no idea what I'm doing here," the scene actually came together pretty well.  I put in a hour or two, surfaced for air, that excited feeling in my chest that tells me I'm an adventurer again.  The best leftover dessert doesn't begin to touch this kind of creative pleasure.

It reminds me of a great article by CDBaby founder Derek Sivers.  He blogged about the benefits of believing you're below average.  At first I was repelled by the idea--the opposite of positive thinking, the opposite of self-confidence, I thought.  Then I mulled over his words and decided he was a genius.  It's really the same theory I'm espousing today:  creative innocence.  If you're not expecting the best from yourself, you lose that almighty pressure of writing beautifully every time.

This Week's Writing Exercise
1.  Check out Derek Sivers's article on being below average. Post your thoughts here, if you like.

2.  Find an area of your writing life where you're willing to be creatively innocent this week.  Can you try something new?  Can you be a beginner again?

3.  Put in an hour of time on your writing, itself.  See if the attitude of creative innocence sets aside the Inner Critic, allows something unexpectedly good.