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?