Creative Irresponsibility

The human mind thinks entirely in the positive. That is, if my wife were headed to the store, and I called out, “Don’t forget the milk!” she would actually hear, “Forget the milk!” Better then to say, “Remember the milk.” Which is why writers must only focus on what we want to create, not what we don’t want to create. Though it is perfectly natural for me to think, “I don’t want to write a boring book,” if I continue to think this, it would be as if I am watering dandelions and hoping they will grow into roses. Or, to put it in writerly terms: if I want to write a scene about love, I cannot think about fear, hatred, and violence. If I want to write about love, I must think about love.

I know all of this intellectually, yet I still find myself from time to time thinking about the things I don’t want to create. I do so out of the misguided belief that the only way to stay safe from the threat of What Might Be is to remember all the things that I don’t want to exist – as if, but for my diligence, I might trip and accidentally write a book I don’t want to write. This is an exhausting and uncomfortable way to live and write. I feel as if I am navigating a minefield of disastrous possibility, with only capricious luck and joyless concentration to keep me safe.

When I think too long in this way, I quickly find myself in conversation with other people complaining about the state of the world. Look what a mess we’ve made. To not recognize the mess we’ve made would be irresponsible. How else will we correct the problems?

Fortunately, I have lived long enough to learn creative irresponsibility. By and by, I choose to ignore my problems. I ignore the problem of forgetting the milk and remember my desire to have milk in my cereal. I forget the problem of a boring book and remember my desire for an interesting book. In so doing I become responsible once again for the life I’m leading, rather than the life I’m afraid I might lead.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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