September 29, 2014

Comparison and self-doubt are the thief of creativity

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that "comparison is the thief of joy." Comparison is also the thief of production and creativity. It is deadly and antithetical to the artist, the creator and the creative process. Philip Larkin said to the Paris Review:
"Everyone envies everyone else."
He also wrote a poem, 'On Being Twenty-Six':
"I feared these present years, 
The middle twenties, 
When deftness disappears, 
And each event is 
Freighted with a source-encrusting doubt, 
And turned to drought."
Quentin Blake said: "As soon as I knew something was intended for print, I tightened up."

Hitchens wrote, embrace the doubt and comparison:
"The main thing as I keep saying, I never tire of saying is, to keep testing yourself against other writers who are better than you. That’s what qualifies one as a writer I think, permanently running the risk of having to say I don’t know why I bother."
He elaborated on this:
"[With George Orwell] you don’t get the sense for example when you’re reading Proust or Nebokhov or George Eliot that you shouldn’t be in the writing business."
Will Self called Orwell a "talented mediocrity." Keep pitching yourself against better writers, sit in their shadow and feel the cold glow and even ask why you bother, but never stop. Let the self-doubt spur not suffocate. I wrote about what Christopher Hitchens had to say on this here.

Philip Larkin was affected by Comparison, self-doubt, inferiority. John Banville wrote in 2006 in the New York Review of Books:
"Philip Larkin started out as a novelist, and had written two novels by the time he was twenty-five. However, the enormous, instant success of Amis’s Lucky Jim (1954), which took at least some of its inspiration from the author’s friendship with Larkin, seems to have discouraged Larkin so comprehensively that he abandoned his ambitions to go on writing fiction and turned to poetry instead. In 1982 he told The Paris Review: “I wanted to ‘be a novelist’ in a way I never wanted to ‘be a poet,’ yes. Novels seem to me to be richer, broader, deeper, more enjoyable than poems.” From the start, then, the act of making poetry was for Larkin tainted with the bitter taste of failure, which makes his poetic triumph all the more remarkable. Or does it? As he famously declared, “Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth”."
Samuel Beckett was an awful fretter. With eric koston, Comparison, self-doubt and inferiority can be constructive or ruinous. It falls on how you respond - see here (2m30) and here (5m50).

Listen to Jack Vettriano explain how comparing himself to Francis Bacon paralysed him. Listen to Tracey Emin express how she feels doubt and inferiority:
"Some days I wake up and think, I’m a useless artist, I’m terrible, it’s not real, I don’t understand it, why am I an artist, and I ask myself all these questions."
Christopher Hitchens also said elsewhere:
"Dr. Samuel Johnson felt, as many fine writers have done, that he had wasted most of his time and squandered the greater part of his gift. (Exorbitant praise from others, such as Boswell in this instance, may often have the effect only of reinforcing such a morbid conviction of failure."

Previous post in this series here.

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