Week Six Task: Practicing Containment

21 Sep

“Rather than practice discernment and discretion in whom we choose to show a project to, we throw open the doors and welcome comments from all corners. If we look closely at why we have abandoned certain projects and dreams, we can often find the offender — the ruthless commentator that caused us to lose heart.” ~ Julia Cameron, Walking in This World.

This chapter really got me thinking.  A lot of what I really connected with was the idea of too much inflow.  I am certainly in this situation now.  In fact, I always find myself in said situation over and over, because it is my nature.  I want to experience everything, and am (usually) energized by being involved in many different things.  However, there is truth in the idea that you can have too much of a good thing.  That’s why I’ve had to learn to say “no.”  It wasn’t an easy skill to learn, but it’s something I’ve become much more adept at, and need to wield that particular sword a bit better at the moment.

The other big theme in this chapter is what Julia calls containment: keeping your ideas and works to yourself until they are truly ready to be seen by others, and even then, being very selective about whom you choose to share them with.   Because once you share them, you will get feedback in one form or another.  You may not be ready for it, or perhaps you are but it is delivered in a way that disempowers you rather than affirms you.

A few examples come to mind:

A relative of mine used to write for a living.  I admired her and, early on in my writing as an adult, I shared a humorous personal essay with her.  In general, she had always been very supportive, but this was the first of my writing she had seen, and she was not enthusiastic.  It is important to note that she didn’t say Why in the world are you writing?  You have no talent.  She just said the piece was a bit rough.  But that was enough to throw me for a loop.  I had asked for her feedback, but what I really wanted was her approval.  When it didn’t come, I was crushed.   It’s not that she was not a good person from whom to ask feedback, it was that I asked for it too soon.  Either the piece was not ready, or I wasn’t, or both.  I’ve tried to write similar pieces since then, but always get “stuck.” I have a thicker skin now and instead of shutting out her feedback, I would seek more details, ask questions. Unfortunately, she is gone now and I’ll never have that chance. 

Another example is a writer I’ve met recently who is called upon to give feedback to other writers.  This person has some good technical feedback, and also some feedback which is just her perspective.  The problem is, the value of the message is lost because it is delivered in a way that comes across as demeaning to the receiver, rather than constructive criticism between two professionals.  In this situation, the receiver generally responds by either resisting the feedback entirely or questioning their ability to write at all.   Surely this is not the intention.  Unfortunately, even when others mean well, they don’t always do well.  We must practice containment until we can figure out how to deal with that.

My last example is a wonderful, open-hearted writer who is doing really interesting non-fiction work.  She let her guard down and talked to someone who essentially turned out to be a competitor.  At the time it seemed casual.  Not a big deal.  Now, that compeititor has indicated an intent to publish on the very same topic! 

Now, back to the task.  It’s simple: practice containment.  We each have the right to protect our artist selves.   Remind yourself it is okay to circle your wagons and keep out what needs to be kept out and in what needs to be kept in.  I’ll be working on this too.

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