Wrestle the Demons


Imagine you smell it through the trees before you come to it: the smell of plant decay, of an algae bloom, of dead fish.  Through the trees you see the clearing.  As you emerge from the forest, you stop at the edge of what appears to be a pond edged by tall cattails.  Then you realize the extent of this pond — it stretches to the left, the right, and beyond the swamp grass across from this open section.  A silvery snake slithers away to your right.  A small frog on a lily pad eyes you as if you might be lunch.  A crow caws behind you somewhere in the trees.  Welcome to The Swamp.

Writers prefer not to talk about it, or visit it, but The Swamp inhabits a part of every writer’s mind.  Inside The Swamp live the phosphorescent demons Inadequacy and Doubt.  Inadequacy resembles a slimy hairless cat that slinks through the swamp grass, and likes to rub up against your legs and meow in a pathetic tone as if to say, “You don’t have what’s needed to write this,” or “Give it up!  You aren’t good enough.”  Doubt whispers on the light breeze, a scent of slime that invades your nostrils and clings to your skin.  It says, “You know this could be above your capabilities,” or “Why try?  You can’t do it.”

I’ve been wrestling with these two demons all week.  Ironic, after writing about my creative integrity hero last Saturday.  But seeing his work in the movie Lincoln, his brilliance, I felt totally inadequate and full of doubt.  This can happen.  Daniel Day-Lewis could be sitting next to me right now, assuring me that I’m talented, capable, that I can stretch my writing muscles and create the stories I want to share with readers.  Nothing he could say will convince me, however.  The problem with these demons is that they are impervious to external influences.  Not even the Nobel Prize in Literature could make them retreat far into The Swamp.

They don’t like fire.  Not the kind of fire that burns down forests, but the fire of passion, emotional fire and drive.  In order to stoke the fire enough to drive away the demons, I first must trick them into thinking I’ve given up on them, that they’ve won.  How?

Reading helps.  Watching movies can also help as long as I stay away from movies that could give them more power (no Daniel Day-Lewis movies).  I read The Writer this week, and found a lot to think about, reassurance that I at least understand what they’re talking about.  This morning was particularly rough — I read The Atlantic.  Rather than read fiction and invite the demons to stay, I read nonfiction — works better for me.  A good night’s sleep helps, too.  Once I’ve begun to feel better, I can use classical music to give my imagination power again, to invite her out to play.  The passion begins to smolder….

How do you wrestle your demons of Inadequacy and Doubt?

 

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6 responses to “Wrestle the Demons

  1. Inadequacy and doubt don’t bother me nearly as much as shiftlessness does when it comes to writing down longer works. I have a million stories in my head and sometimes something will spark an inspiration that shifts my current project into the background. I hate when that happens.

    • Yeah, my mind loves to scatter and follow various interesting things, too. Writing is hard work — no doubt about it. The reward is usually more hard work. The demons want me to be lazy, to take the easy way, to not take the risks. Thanks for your comment!

  2. I try very hard to set them aside and keep plugging away. I just tell myself that I’m not going to get better by quitting.

    • You’re right about not quitting, of course. I need to give myself time to try to figure out what the demons have reacted to in popping out of the Swamp. It helps to prevent them from doing the same thing to the same issue again. Hope all is well with you! Thanks for your comment.

  3. I fight fire with fire : I write. I write again and again, I can’t ignore the voices in my head but I keep writing and when I’m exhausted, furious and too discouraged, I put my pen on the table and I read what I’ve created. Most often, I find it very bad.
    Then, I change my mind, I work, I study, I watch TV and I read what I wrote some months ago, what is “perfect”, and this make me think that I am not so bad. So I take my pen and a new page, and I write a little. It sounds a little bit better.
    I try the day after, and it seems almost good. I keep this rhythm for weeks until I have an idea so good that it shushes all the voices and destroys all the doubts…
    This is how I manage to wrestle the demons. It can be long, but it always works!
    I love the way you present your post. It’s well written and very pleasant to read. Well done! Don’t listen to the demons, you’re talented! See you soon.

    • Hi, Phananta — thanks for the words of encouragement! I too have tried the fight fire with fire technique. It only works just so far for me. I’ve learned that I need to acknowledge the feelings, wrestle with them for a while (not too long), then return to writing. Unfortunately, as you note, the process can take time. If I don’t, the demons start dancing and disrupt my imagination’s play. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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