Editing, in itself, is not the problem. Editing is usually necessary if we want to end up with something satisfactory… [But] The habit of compulsive, premature editing doesn’t just make writing hard. It also makes writing dead. — Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers
Last Fall, my wife and I began reading The Artist’s Way together and doing some of the work Cameron prescribes for recovering or nurturing the stunted artist she claims is in each of us. Early in the book, she lays out the importance of free writing exercises and brings up the idea of an internal editor that will invariably try and squash these attempts to just write. The exercises were fun, and the time with my wife was delightful, but I was uncomfortable with really believing that there was some kind of creativity-killing hobgoblin lurking in the shadows of my inner life. A year later, I wonder why: there really is something – someone – there, that fits that bill. Just trying to write a post about it/them is enough to prove Cameron’s idea plausible, if not true. And I remember Spacey’s character in The Usual Suspects, riffing on Baudelaire: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
So I’m trying to understand who this editor is. And what to do with them: try to ignore them or bypass them or shut them up? Or talk to them, get to know them, understand what they want, and find some way to live (and write) with them? There is a false kind of freedom in saying or writing, without filtering, whatever I want that isn’t good or godly, and that’s not what I’m seeking. Instead, I’m searching for the true freedom to speak from my true self without fear. I want this in conversations, in relationships, and in my writing, too. And it’s in prayer that I think I’m beginning to get a clue.
The free writing exercises inspired by The Artist’s Way quickly became a kind of morning prayer journal for me: a happy deviation from what Cameron was actually encouraging. Spending 20 minutes early each morning just trying to tell God what I was thinking and feeling, and trying to listen for Him in response, was a wonderful thing for someone like me who has never had a regular ‘quiet time’ or devotional life. I’m convinced that no time trying to pray is wasted or a bad thing. But I look at those entries now and see how far from free they really are. I pose and filter in every conversation, and none so much as those sacred ones with my Maker. Maybe this says more about my spiritual life and sense of assurance before God than my abilities as a writer, but I think there’s a connection. I have a dim, immature understanding of reverence. The difference between saying, or writing, what I think someone wants to hear, and saying whatever is true may also be as far as the East from the West. Am I willing to believe that? And write, speak, pray, out of that belief?
Today, at least, I am. I will not shame you, little voice inside me, or suffer you to shame my true self. I will not crush you, or be crushed. I will not pretend you are not there, not some part of me. It’s a beautiful, bright autumn morning, and we’re going to let the fig leaves fall where they may.
(Drawing by Escher)