Author: Philip Kenney
Publisher: Inkwater Press
Writers and other creative people are prone to perfectionism and are rarely pleased with their work. As Philip Kenney points out in the introduction to his The Writer's Crucible: Meditations on Emotion, Being, and Creativity these individuals most likely agonize in solitude and deal with helpless spells of infertility and hopelessness. They feel that their work is always incomplete, unfinished, never quite good enough and are constantly frustrated as you battle the voices of self-doubt. They may ask themselves, why am I writing if I constantly feel insecure and they may even listen to the voices within that tell them to quit before they embarrass themselves and feel ashamed.
Drawing on his many years as a psychoanalyst, a practitioner of meditation and writer, as well as accumulating an abundance of knowledge and insights, Kenney succinctly replies: “because it is amazing” and he quotes Toni Morrison, “to dare to write is to venture into a territory called “the non-secular.” It is this “non-secular territory” which is central to what the book offers and it is this territory that Kenney ventures into as a means to help writers face these challenges.
Dividing the book into six sections which are entitled: The Project, Your are a Poem, The Theater of the Mind, The Materials, Novel Ideas and Characters, Kenney provides his readers with a broad discussion of our mental approach to the many impediments that stifle our creativity and offers sage advice as to a variety of ways to deal with them.
One of the themes that Kenney devotes a great deal of ink is that of “self-project” which begins with the feeling that we are not good enough and occupies a huge section of our psychic space, common to many artists. Instead of engaging in writing, many authors devote countless hours preoccupying themselves with self-doubt, endless preliminary tasks, or fantasies of grandiose successes. Frustration becomes a constant companion and feeling despair is thus creating a desire to quit. However, that is the one thing not to do, regardless of how much you think your work is a piece of junk.
Kenney advises creative people to slow down and feel that good enough is not a recognition into mediocrity but a loving and respectful soothing of the self. There may not be a magic formula in overcoming the not good enough feeling but, as shown in the book, there are a few things you can do to work through the feeling and still get the job done. One approach is to consider yourselves as a poem in dealing with insecurity and to listen for the rhyme and rhythm within yourself, as well as to appreciate the sweet sounds passing through your lips and to acknowledge and accept the discordance that is also part of our magical existences. You are not creative because of the laurels you receive but rather because you love to create.
Throughout the book Kenney often refers to Donald Winnicott, the English pediatrician and psychoanalyst who was especially influential in the field of object relations theory. For example, Winnicott believed that looking to others for a script of how one should think, write and be in the world is what he termed “False Self,” which is much different from the “True Self” where the artist's life becomes free and creative. These two concepts are fully analyzed leading to a better understanding as to how they affect writers and artists.
To say The Writer's Crucible is enlightening and covers a great deal of ground would be an understatement and I am sure it will attract many followers attracted to its many takeaways. And as stated on the back cover of the book: “it is not a book that tells you how to write-it is one that shows you how to be a writer.” If you are a creative person there will always be the feeling that your work is not complete or not finished and never good enough, but hey that is okay, it is even normal and you may even be too hard on yourself. What is important is to understand your insecurity and grasping how to deal with it. Above all be kind to yourself and come to the realization that you are not alone and the feeling of being not good enough arises because of the thoughts you empower. If a thought springs up and whispers in your ear you are not good enough, you can either believe it or you can laugh at it. This does not mean the thought will suddenly disappear as its feeling may linger for sometime, but that is fine. Just remember that deep down you are already good enough. Nothing can change that.