Monday, April 30, 2007

Emotional distance and your work

One of my clients wrote to me last night:
You said to keep writing, so I have.... I feel like these last two chapters are not as tight as they should be, but I want to get through them so we can decide where they need to be revised, groomed and strengthened. Is that the best approach? I am used to much more brooding and critical reflection during the writing process. The way I am working now, though, I do not have as much emotional attachment to the I think it will be easier to be more critical in the revision process. What do you think?

First of all, what I think is that brooding is not necessarily pleasant, so why would one want to do it? But that's a glib answer.

We have to balance two separate tendencies:
1. the desire--or the need--to share our work with others
2. The desire to make the work as good as possible

The two tendencies fight each other--at least with respect to a writing project, and perhaps with respect to any artistic endeavor--on the one hand we want to continue to work on the project to make it better, and on the other we want to share it as soon as possible.
Balance is crucial. We all know people who seem to lack the ability to worry about their own work, and put out whatever they're thinking. But such people are not likely to have problems with emotional distance with their work.

But someone who keeps working to improve their project? These are the people who get stuck--forever improving, never sharing. Ok, that's an exaggeration. But people get caught in emotional connection with their work, which makes it difficult to move forward.
Emotional connection with your work makes it difficult to make changes--especially if your project can, as a whole, be improved by removing something you think well done.
It's hard to make radical changes in a work if you have invested a lot of energy in it.
It's hard to accept criticism of work if you are emotionally connected with it.
If you can share work, if you can hear what others have to say about it, and if you can be open to criticism, then you can benefit from the ideas and expertise of others. This is not to say that you must sacrifice yourself to opinions of others, but that you should try to learn from what they have to say.

You are not your work. Your work is an attempt to accomplish things, to express yourself, to express ideas. But it is not the measure of your worth. And, oddly enough, the more we can let go of the self-critical urge and the emotional connection, the better we are able to produce good work.

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