Always Original


You may have heard that artists can begin to “imitate themselves.” I certainly had glimpsed what I perceived as self-imitation in writers and musicians I admired. Whenever I saw it, I felt contempt and disappointment – and then a little fear. The contempt and disappointment were because these artists had let me down. I depended on them for the meaningful escape my favorite songs, stories, and poems provided. Their failure only served to remind me how elusive that escape truly was.

Then came the fear. If they could do it, what made me think I wouldn’t? After all, these were Great Artists. What if a person only gets so much good stuff? What if you spend your wad, and realize you still have a life to lead and bills to pay and so what else are you going to do? You become a kind of craftsman, assembling suitable stories with the skill you acquired writing the inspired stuff. Maybe no one will really notice.

Having written close to fifteen hundred of these little essays, I understand how it is possible to slip into this even if you don’t feel used up. Sometimes I sit down to write without any idea of where to start. This is not unusual, but if I get impatient, I might try to dash one off on skill alone, figuring I’ve earned this time off from waiting, waiting, waiting for inspiration, having labored for years in dark writing forests where I found my way with only the single, thin beam of an interesting idea.

My impatience is like a trap I set for myself. I wonder, what if I just start this journey without the only thing that has ever led me anywhere? What could go wrong? It’s not long before I’m mired in my own disinterest, feeling like a fraud, a typist posing as a writer. There’s no escaping this, I’m afraid. I cannot manufacture interest. I can only recognize it and follow it.

I have much more compassion now when I notice artists leaning on what seems like old formulas. Once you learn the kind of stories you like to tell, and once you start figuring out how to tell them, you have to keep finding why you love to tell them. It’s like a marriage. You know your partner’s face like your own, know her humor and fears. She can’t surprise you as she did when you first met her. The real surprise is always that love feels new whenever you let yourself see it – it’s always there, always original, always inspired, the single light you live by and for.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.