Writer Guilt

Guilt Painting

Photo Credit: For being born somewhere else, Francisco Goya, 1814-1823, Brush, gouache, ink and brown bugalla, Prado Museum: AAvindraa/Wikimedia Commons/PD Art (PD Old 100)

“[A]nything we have heard or experienced can be subliminal… .” (Jung, Part 1, location 510)

A while back, a writer on a Facebook group posted of the guilt she felt for having spent some free time having dinner with friends rather than writing. This opened up an online confessional for other writers who felt they didn’t put their writing on their priority list.

This kind of artistic guilt is common among writers. We feel guilt when we’re not writing because writing is what takes us into the imagination, the place we would rather be more than anywhere else (as I discuss here). Writing is our purpose in life, the way we communicate with the world, how we give and receive love. So we feel failures and losers when we have a precious moment or access to a quiet space and we chose to do something else other than write.

But in reality, the artist’s mind is like a wheel, always churning, always seeking. As Jung says above, our senses inhale the subliminal messages of the world. One of the reasons why artists are artists is because they experience the world on a more hypersensitive level than others. They are blessed and cursed with an interest in nearly everything around them, in other people’s experiences as well as their own.

I talk here about the third eye of the artist. By nature, creative people develop into people on whom nothing is lost. Stanislavsky, one of the godfathers of method acting, taught that actors need to develop a third eye to achieve emotional significance and authenticity in their performances. I think his advice holds true for writers and for all artists:

“ ‘An actor should be observant not only on the stage but also in real life. He should concentrate with all his being on whatever attracts his attention’ “ (Ch. 5, location 1364)

Psychological reality involves not just our authentic internal experiences but our external experiences as well. The third eye makes “ ‘creative work immeasurably richer, finer, and deeper’ “ (Stanislavsky, Ch. 5, location 1373). Therefore we cannot have emotion without observation, which is why Stanislavsky further advises his students to:

“ ‘look at… listen to, and … hear what is beautiful [for] [s]uch habits elevate [the senses] and arouse feelings which will leave deep traces in… emotion memories’ “ (Ch. 5, 1373).

Absorbing the ugliness and horror of experience is something artists do well, since fiction is drama. But I think remembering to look for beauty too is so important that we shouldn’t forget it. Some people, both artists and non-artists, simply have this uncanny ability. My mother, for example, is a positive thinker. Her experience growing up with a mother who was never satisfied turned her completely the opposite direction. She observes beauty in ways that have influenced my writing as much as my own observations. For example, she told me stories from her recent trip to New York (the girl in Times Square who told her sad story to an African-American businessman who stopped to listen, the young man with Down’s Syndrome she met on the plane) that will no doubt make their way into my fiction one of these days.

I confess that I am not immune to the guilt of not writing but I keep in the back of my mind that my third eye is working all the time.

Works Cited

Jung, Carl G., Von Franz, M.L., Henderson, Joseph L., Jacobi, Jolande, Jaffe Aniela. Man And His Symbols. Dell Publishing, 1964. Kindle digital file.

Stanislavsky, Constantin. An Actor Prepares. Aristophanes Press, 2015 (original publication date 1936). Kindle digital file.

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