Are you programmed to self destruct?

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file000663776371I have a friend who is a very talented artist. He comes up with some amazing ideas. And when he pursues his ideas, he jumps in with both feet. Total passion and fearlessness.

Then, inevitably, he blows everything up. Not literally. I mean, just when he’s starting to gain momentum and really make something happen, he trips himself up. Sabotages himself. Sets what he’s doing and what he’s done on fire and walks away. And all of us watching it happen shake our heads and sigh.

It’s like he’s programmed to self destruct.

Artists (writers included) are known to be a temperamental lot. You know the stereotype: the tortured artist. We find community in our angst and court our pain in search of inspiration.

Which is fine, I suppose, if that’s all you want to do. But I have to wonder if at some point that kind of drama becomes our work instead the art we were creating.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield refers to this kind of behavior as a form of resistance. Julia Cameron refers to it as “the twitch, the flu, the deadly disease” in her book Supplies: A Troubleshooting Guide for Creative Difficulties. It’s that thing you allow to get in your way so you don’t have to accomplish the thing you’re really meant to accomplish.

I used to be this way. I used to unravel my work so I never had to get where I wanted to be. Why? I’ve asked myself that a lot. The best answer I’ve found is that success means change and change can be scary.

Reminds me of that Marianne Williamson poem:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

 Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

Yeah. That.

I wish my artist friend would read The War of Art or Supplies, or Marianne’s poem. But, like a kind of depression, when you’re in a pattern of self-destruction, you don’t really want to hear the answer. You just want to keep being roiled up in the confusion and drama and somedays.

But the answer is pretty easy. (Okay, it’s hard, but also…easy.)

You do the thing you’re scared of doing. You go that extra step. You finish the work. You put away the matches and let the thing live and breathe and shine instead of burning it to the ground.

I think James A. Owen might say it best in his book Drawing Out the Dragons:

“If you really want to do something, no one can stop you. But if you really don’t want to do something, no one can help you.”

Are you programmed to self destruct? Whether you’re able to hear this now, or whether it just sits in your subconscious for a while until you are ready, the truth is this: you don’t have to burn what you’re building.

Just put the matches down.


7 thoughts on “Are you programmed to self destruct?

    dex said:
    May 15, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    Amazing post! I hope you don’t mind if I reblog it…

      Amy K. Nichols said:
      May 15, 2013 at 4:20 pm

      Thanks, Dex! Of course not. I appreciate it. 🙂

    Alison J. McKenzie said:
    May 15, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Great post!

    hopecook said:
    May 15, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    I don’t think I’m on self destruct mode, but I have to be very careful of “overanalyzing perfectionist OCD crazy person” mode. I tend to get hyper-focused on a project, then ride the waves of “it’s great,” “it sucks,” “I’m great,” “I suck.”

    Right now I’m polishing my MS and trying to make up for years of absence on social media, so there’s plenty of opportunity for the voices in my head to make me want to hide under the bed with my laptop. *clutches laptop to chest* *pulls bottle of wine under the bed*

    Wayne said:
    May 17, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Very eye-opening and encouraging post! Like Hopecook, I ride a roller coaster of ups and downs and suffer from ‘analysis paralysis’.

    I have been writing a sci-fi novel off and on for over 18 months (had developed the idea/concept over 5 years ago) but tortured myself with the details and getting facts ‘perfect’. I am learning to embrace my left-brain/right-brain duality so that the logical/scientific part of my thinking does not hijack the emotional and creative/artistic aspect of my nature. It’s challenging, but I am making progress through advice and guidance from online writing forums and will be taking a creative writing course this summer.

    As an ENFP (Myers-Briggs Personality Type), I need to feed my strengths and face my weaknesses so that I am more likely to finish projects that I start.

    I have put the matches down… until such time that I write a novel about a time-traveling pyromaniac….hehehe

      Amy K. Nichols said:
      June 2, 2013 at 1:44 pm

      Hey Wayne! Apologies for the delay in commenting back. Guess what? I’m an I/ENFP (split evenly between the I and E). Surprised? No, me neither. I have a tendency to start thing and not finish, too.

      Please finish your book so the world can read it (including me!). You know that thing Ann Lamott says about writing “shitty first drafts”? It’s true. You can write as poorly as you want or need in those early drafts, if that’s what it takes to get the story down. You’re not carving in stone. Everything you write can be fixed. Later. When the draft is done. The thing I had to learn was to stop hanging wallpaper when I didn’t even have the wall of my house built, you know?

      Now stop reading about Doctor Who and go write! 🙂

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