Ignore Everybody

writer's mind

My friend Michael Procopio–a San Francisco based gentleman blogger who fights for the honor of words and glorifies the well-timed delivery of a witty retort–wrote a moving essay on the topic of writer’s block this past week. Michael’s post described how his writing had come to a halt once a desire to create something perfect had settled in. Writer’s block–the kind that demands nothing less than greatness– can not be relieved without the delivery of an impossible ransom. The desire for praise or success only elevates the price. Michael’s essay bared the hard truth; a desire to create something perfect can kill the ability to create.

Oh, man. Who hasn’t felt that way? Who hasn’t longed for a pat on the back? Who hasn’t worked hard on a creative project, only to feel a heightened sense of obligation for the next deed to be even greater than the last? Who hasn’t heard those dark whispers that say the work you’re done is no good. Or worse, that nobody out there really cares?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frozen by the idea that the last thing I was proud of may be the last good thing I write. And then, just when I’ve talked my self out of the corner, the voice of self-doubt returns to trump the whole thing with the hateful notion that the last thing I put down on paper wasn’t all that great after all.  Why bother, it tells me.

Boy, we creative types really can be rotten to ourselves.

Luckily, I’m in something of a good place today, so I can muster something close to a snicker to the dark thoughts that come in and tell me I might as well stop writing. Where do these thoughts come from? Who allows such mean talk to go on in this head of mine? Thanks to Michael’s essay, I’m happy to know I’m not the only writer who has suffered through a block.

It’s odd, what we do here in the blogosphere. We begin our work in obscurity, work hard to define what it is we do, and then–once we get a sense for who we are online–we work hard to lift our blogs out of the void. We write more often, we search engine optimize, we go to classes, and attend conferences. And then–if we’re lucky enough to make a blip on the radar and get noticed (Yay! A spike in traffic! Yipee a mention on a site we love!), we’re suddenly faced with a whole new set of challenges.

Recognition and kudos feel good. But self doubt can come in and erase all that. Fear can step in and tell us that somehow we’re gonna mess things up.

Savor obscurity while it lasts

When I started this blog four years ago, I felt the spaciousness of obscurity. I craved attention, yes, but I knew there was a wide margin of error and discovery in the early essays I posted. In blogging limbo, no one cared what I had to say. Later, as the years went by and the curve of my stats arced upwards, I began to feel a sense of obligation for what I wrote. Minutes of editing became hours. I got lost in things that weren’t as important as the act of writing. The quality of my lenses and camera suddenly became very important. How my blog looked took a lot of time. Luckily, I never came close to getting a smidgen of readers close to someone as prolific as Pioneer Woman, but yet, the more readers I got, the more I began to labor over my “hobby”.

My writing became constricted and forced. What once took an hour or two now took an entire day to write. I fostered a growing sense of insecurity as I wondered if other writers took as long to write a post. I questioned my talent, my love, my desire to create. My creative playing field became a dungeon. I became shackled to certain ideas and desires.

Nobody cares. Do it for yourself.

I recently read a book that offered up some entertaining and sobering advice on the creative process. “Ignore Everybody And 39 Other Keys to Creativity,” written by Hugh MacLeod (author of GapingVoid.com), illustrates through business-card sized cartoons and short essays how creative types like Michael and I need to face the realities of creating and remember to do the hard work for the love and passion of it.

“You are responsible for your own experience,” says MacLeod. “Nobody can tell you if what you’re doing is good, meaningful or worthwhile. The more compelling the path, the more lonely it is.”

MacLeod reminds his readers through entertaining illustrations he pens on the back of business cards, that nobody really cares what kind of art we create. What’s important is that we create it. Readers may have an opinion or a set of guidelines that they measure you with–but the nobody honestly CARES about what you’re doing. Everyone is too busy worrying about their own lives to sincerely care about the work that we do. In the world of what’s important, it really doesn’t matter if our posts contain the word chocolate, bacon, or low calorie a certain number of times.

Thoughts of What if I mess up, What if I disappoint? Will I lose readers if I try something different? aren’t thoughts we should waste our time worrying about. Expectations weigh down the creative process and bring it to a screeching halt. What we need to do is CREATE. Creatives have a drive to put ideas down on paper, snap a photo, bake a cake, or sing a song. The problems start when we create something in hopes of making someone other than ourselves happy.

Only you–the creative–should be concerned with the subtleties, quality and results of what you do. The desire to create something perfect can make ideas thicken with self-doubt. Self-criticism evaporates the desire to be fearless and take chances.  So when I start to find my creative process weakened by thoughts of pride, ego, and self-doubt, I just remember the words of Hugh MacLeod:

“If you are successful, it’ll never come from the direction you predicted…Dreams have a life of their own and they’re not very good at following instructions. Love them, revere them, nurture them, respect them, but don’t ever become a slave to them. Otherwise you’ll kill them off prematurely before they get the chance to come true.”

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Brooke Burton nominated for best food writing

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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

21 Comments

  1. […] after today. On Modern Destiny. Ignore Everybody Food Woolf Tue, December 27, 2011 2:13 PM UTC Food Woolf Rate this story Loading … Share (function(){var […]

  2. Joanna
    December 27
    Reply

    Well said! Good thoughts for New Year’s. My dreams have nearly disabled me when they didn’t come true…being married forever to the same man. When that burst, I felt a slave to it and quite disappointed in my “failure”. You describe healing writers block by being true to yourself. The same concepts can be applied to any art, to life. My motto these days is that it’s about the journey, not the destination. I have arrived at being a single mom, but it doesn’t define me. It’s what I do as such that defines me.
    Just create and let the words, pictures, style flow where they will be accepted. You touch lives more with the ripples than will ever flow back to you.

  3. December 27
    Reply

    “Ignore everybody.” It’s very good advice, but the toughest thing in the world for me to do is to ignore myself– those little demons inside my own head that tell me what I’m doing is no good.

    What a wonderful post. I don’t think I’ve ever inspired an essay before and I’m greatly touched. Now how am I supposed to ignore everybody when people write lovely things like this? I’m afraid I can’t find it in my heart to ignore you.

    Love,

    Michael

    • December 27
      Reply

      It’s true. The hardest critic to ignore is that dark voice that whispers to us that we’re no good, a sham, and should hang up our writing spurs. I’m learning how to identify that voice as something separate from myself–a pain body that likes to taunt me–and I do my very best to ignore it. It’s not always easy, but it’s getting easier every time I reach out to others, do something caring for myself, and ask for help. xoxox, B

  4. December 27
    Reply

    Such a great post, Brooke, as I’ve definitely been there and I agree with Michael that the hardest critic to ignore is myself.

  5. Maybe, like many things, the advancement of age offers some benefits. One is that we have long learned to not care so much what others think. Not the same as not caring for others at all but just not letting that worry consume us. It’s why there is a group of women who wear those red hats…sort of their ‘to hell with what everyone thinks’ attitude in full display on their head.

    My only struggle with writing is in taking ownership that it’s what I do. Others call me a writer but I resist…I’m a cook, a learning photographer and someone who shares that with others through my blog. But a writer? Me? It’s not by choice, it’s by circumstance and maybe in that I’m lucky to have never suffered writer’s block; I just don’t hold myself or what I write up to a lot of scrutiny as I simply share what is on my mind at the time and Lord knows…I’ve got plenty on my mind!

    But you are so right Brooke and I’m reminded of the lyrics from an old song, ‘You Can’t Please Everyone, So You’ve Got to Please Yourself.’ Ozzie and Harriet taught their boy well.

  6. This post is written like a true creative! I want my ideas to be light, airy and flowing. You are correct..when we try to force solutions in anything – not a good thing at all.
    It is awesome that you can voice all of this for people like me. These are things that happen often in my writing….but also in photography.

  7. December 29
    Reply

    Perfect timing! I’ve been brooding over my own blog and what I really want it to be, and have been crippling myself with doubt about how to move it to the “get recognized/get more readers” level. When in reality, that’s not why I started it in the first place. I did it to create a place for a creative outlet for me, and only for me, and if other people liked it, fine – if not, it still serves its purpose. Thank you so much for the reminder!

    • December 29
      Reply

      Andie, so happy to hear that this post helped to remind you why you started blogging in the first place. It’s important to stay true to your voice and work hard at being the best YOU you can be. I highly recommend “Ignore Everybody”. It’s a great book, a fast read, and will definitely kick you in the pants about your creative process. Good luck. Happy writing.

  8. Really good thoughts here. I’ve gone through this curve too, and you’re right, it’s hard to avoid fixating on things you “think” your readers will like — once one actually gets some readers of course. Every time I try to write from this mindset, I actually *fail* to give my readers what I want, and entire process of writing gets slow, painful and laden with self-doubt. What’s even more annoying is how often I keep finding myself re-learning this lesson.

    One solution I’ve discovered: deliberately defy the expectations of your readers. This year I wrote a number of posts defending (yes, defending) the food industry, and then I wrote a series of posts on anti-consumerism and defying the retail industry’s ninja mind tricks. All stuff that’s far from expected content in a food blog. I’ll let others judge the quality of what I wrote; all I can say is I had more fun writing this year than ever.

    Dan @ Casual Kitchen

  9. I find it very difficult balancing writing and my idea of being a cook/baker. I love doing both, but sometimes I have a serious writer’s block and just hope the blog post/recipe can write itself. Is there such plugin? 😀

    Happy New Year!!

  10. You absolutely nailed it. When I worry about what other think, I become restricted. When I create from inspiration, the sky is really the limit. Thanks for the reminder.

    • December 29
      Reply

      Thanks Alysa! Great to know that we’re not alone in this journey beyond our fears and into something truly creative. Keep on creating with that sense of freedom! You make the world a better place when you follow your creative instincts. Happy creating, Brooke

    • December 29
      Reply

      Thanks, Jay. I’m glad you got to swing by. Thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed this one!

  11. January 5
    Reply

    road blocks come in all shapes and sizes and we have all been there. and you know what – both you and Michael confirm that it is a-okay to stumble, fall, and get back up again! thanks, brooke for yet again, making us all “think”.

  12. Oh how we creative types like to fill ourselves with doubt and insecurity! I read your post during a time of major blockage with my writing. Your words helped remind me of what’s important, of why I started my blog in the first place. It also gave me a new appreciation for that wide margin of error that comes hand in hand with relative obscurity! So thank you :)

  13. January 19
    Reply

    Lovely post! Time allowing & if you haven’t already done so, I think you should partake in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) next November — where all participants spend a month simply creating a novel (40,000 words), and of course… in that time span there is NO time for editing! It’s a great exercise in just “letting it flow.”

  14. January 19
    Reply

    And while I, too, love a well-chosen word or phrase (in writing or conversation) I’m certainly not beyond the lowly pun or double entendre when the timing & situation fit, which themselves have a sliding scale based on ebriation 😉

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