Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Know Thyself

“Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice; take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment. […] This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” – Polonius, Hamlet, Act I, Scene III

As a writer, as an artist, it is an axiom that I take to heart: Know thyself.

Last week I wrote about being in a hinterland, which was in steep contrast to the week before that felt magical, shored up my confidence and renewed my faith and belief in my artistic journey. I was at the beginning, set to start a new round of editing on a novel. I was navigating, what is to me, the uncomfortable “Middle Ground the point where I’m working to bring a project full circle yet suddenly uncertain of the way forward. I felt paralyzed, stuck. I had to find a way to get unstuck, gather momentum and shake the fear that tackled me.

At forty-one, I’ve been writing for over twenty years. While that should make me feel old, it doesn’t. It has been a process of watching my creative self come of age, and then learning to nurture it. In my teens, I hid my stories and poems in places no one could find, and was too “ashamed” to admit I had placed in the top three in two categories of my high school’s writing contest. Or that I had written a novel (probably a really bad novel if compared to my writing today) for my grade twelve Canadian Literature class. Being an artist was crazy, wasn’t it? My family thought so. Then in my twenties, I found the courage to submit my writing for publication and participate in local open mic nights. Enter my thirties and publication came on numerous fronts essays, short stories, poetry and, finally, a novel. The fulfilment of a dream.

The dream continues. And throughout this journey, what I’ve learned about my creative process how I can keep moving forward and hone my writing skills boils down to one word: Focus. If I’m worried about not being on the right path, doubting my talent as a writer, letting fear hold me from tackling the rewrite, it’s because I am trying to create with chaos all around me. The TV on low in the background. Keeping Twitter open. Updating my Facebook status. Distracted by the movements outside my writing room window each time someone passes by.

I’ve learned that when I need to hunker down and make real progress on a project, I have to cut myself off from the world. So last week I searched out the “library” in my building. It’s a large, spacious room with high ceilings. There’s a reading area with two grey faux leather wingchairs, and two long wooden tables, each surrounded with six orange faux leather swivel desk chairs. The building is about two years old, and when I first entered the room I could smell the newness of the leather. Does anyone use this room? was my first thought. The window in the room looks onto the courtyard leading to the underground garage. All I take with me are my manuscript pages, a notebook, a dictionary and a thesaurus. Cut off from the world, it’s just me and my writing; and funny how, almost instantly, everything moved along again seamlessly. There is, one more time, a natural ebb and flow to life. This is what works for me. I feel like, as one editor once told me, that my writing is assured.

The library, now my office away from home, restores my faith and belief in myself. I have the courage to, just for today, keep on keeping on. I have listened to that still, small voice: Know thyself.

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