Dealing with fears - the myth of the curve

Vanessa asked about the insidious voice, a personality that emerges from the 'inner editor' and tells us that we'll never write something so good again, that we fluked our last success and really, deep down, we know we're not good enough to sustain our publication record.

This is what I call the myth of the curve. We believe in it because in all areas we are presented with the curve, not just as a potential achievement but as an actual fact. Tiger Woods, Mozart, Rubens, Immanual Kant, Einstein, Dave Eggers ... all found their curve and ride it, onwards and upwards, ever progressing, ever improving - don't they?

No. They don't.

Woods does lose. Mozart wrote some clunkers. Rubens had bad days and bad paintings. Einstein was sometimes (whisper it) wrong.

We don't write against a graph, rather we write like a kid skimming stones. Sometimes those stones jump perfectly and achieve the other bank. More often they skip once or twice and then sink. By continuing to practice, we can aim to get more stones across the stream than when we started - and that's what we judge ourselves on. We get better at picking the right stones, judging the wind, reading the current, and so we think one day we'll get every stone over. But we won't - we never can. Not because we're not good enough, but because there are too many variables out of our control.

But with notable public successes, in all fields we hear only about what reaches the other bank. We never learn of the twenty stones that sank ... like stones. So what should we do?

Forget the curve and enjoy the riverbank. Remember that posterity will judge differently and we won't be around to see if we make it or not. Admire the stones, listen to the water, and take a moment to remember that any talent at all, no matter its extent, is to be cherished, not castigated if it doesn't 'deliver' on our dreams.

Some stones aren't good for throwing. Some stories - our beloved babies - never make publication. Pretty stones make good doorstops or pocket charms, good stories make us remember that while they may not get published, they have their own intrinsic worth to us as their creator.

Really it comes down to ignoring outcome most of the time, and focusing on process as the purpose of our craft. When outcome and process join to make publication, we can celebrate, but when they don't, if we've taken pleasure in process, we're more able to move away from the critical voice, pick up a new stone, heft it in our hands, and just watch its trajectory, without investing too much in where it lands.