The truth is I’m learning steadily how to handle things. The truth is I’m beginning to understand more and more why the successful people don’t get involved too much in defending or explaining their work. Like GD says, you can be an artist or a lawyer. You can’t do both, well, at the same time.

I feel myself slipping back to crippling perfectionism. Five times I tried to publish things I’d created this week, but something tipped me back over the edge of “not good enough.”

In the beginning, an artist needs the seed of creativity nourished. He or she does not need to be picked apart. This is something I learned from being the one who used to pick things apart. I thought I was doing a service, helping someone improve. Of course I would do it as kindly as I knew how, and I thought that made it okay.

When I switched to creating more and consuming less, I finally got it. The artist doesn’t care about this awkwardly long sentence or that typo or that lack of outlining. The artist cares only for the collaboration with Muse, with creative spirit, with the life force, whatever you want to call it.

The child in the sandbox makes something and says (in his or her own childish words), “Lookie here, what strange mud pie! Isn’t it bizarrely wonderful?” and then moves on to the next mud pie. The love affair with the first mud pie is promptly over, needs no revision, in his or her view, and the creative energy moves on through him or her.

I can’t complain, for it was my own fault. My ego invited criticism, knowing it’s also good for me. The head of the Buddha cut off, again and again.

Return to mud. Thou art but small. Thou shalt continue making mud pies, knowing they aren’t much at all. It’s the quantity that matters. “Go forth and multiply.”

It’s the only way to survive, as an artist.

I learned long ago to love my critics. I won’t blame them, for I invited them, in the very act of being creative and sharing my work. But I don’t need to allow their words to silence me, either.

Return to mud, and muddle on.




  • Image: Photo by Karen Maes on Unsplash
  • Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons Ep. 209: Show Up Before You’re Ready featuring Glennon Doyle
  • Why must I cut off Buddha’s head? Quora discussion
  • What Are You Willing To Allow? by Dr. Perry
  • A project that celebrates muddling: MUDDLE on Github

11 thoughts on “RETURN TO MUD

  1. My struggle has been to value the critic without letting it be the only voice I hear. It’s a useful voice once I’ve got, say, a first draft. It lets me back away and think, yeah, there’s something here, but it’s not working yet. I rewrite a lot, and when I do I can see the writing become sharper, cleaner, stronger. You know–all those adjectives. But initially, I have to lock that damn voice out of my head so I can get that first draft–that mud pie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Ellen, hi! I love your comment.

      I just went and checked out your blog and I got fascinated by your piece “The hazards of professional virginity” (what an amazing, attention-grabbing title by the way). For anyone else interested:

      Anyway, I too am a re-writer, in my case sometimes to the point of being compulsively so. I agree about the first-draft mud pie being the most essential time to lock the critic voice out. Being able to do that is a skill I seem to waver through in seasons.

      I feel that my best work was made in times where I truly was able to completely bypass the critic or perhaps even have an open conversation with it. But your comment also made me think about other stages where I chose to let critics in and how they affected me.

      I wrote for nearly three years without sharing much of it publicly. Finally I felt I needed feedback in order to progress. But I live in a place and situation where I don’t have easy access to face-to-face writing groups. In the end, I decided to seek community online, and that started with an email writing group. But the group quickly dwindled to three of us, and then to two who were able to keep deadlines, and finally it wasn’t truly a group anymore. So I finally forced myself to publish online in order to try to receive immediate feedback. The feedback is not as in-depth as one would have in a writing group, yet it is widespread and relatively immediate. Sometimes the feedback is “no feedback” and that helps too in some way. It helps me view the work like this: “No one liked it. Do I still like it? If so, then good enough — for me, at least.” OR “No one liked it. Oh I see why. Let’s fix it.” Or sometimes, “Let’s ditch it.”

      One thing I have learned is that it’s far easier for me to post online BEFORE getting any feedback on a first draft. I used to “baby” my work far too much and be far to precious about it, and I finally realized that NOW is the time to hit “submit,” or “publish” (because it’s now or never, for me, most often) and then just keep making those steps, intuitively improving (well, hopefully) as I go along. It might not be the best option but it’s the only option I’ve found, for now.

      I did spend a year submitting to a few contests and publications, the process of which was amazing for practicing focus, and exercising various styles/genres, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone reading this, as part of their writing journey (— perhaps a repeated part of the journey, in fact), but ultimately the feedback loop was far too long to immediately improve while I waited for results.

      Some of the pieces I got the most critical (private) feedback on turned out to be the most popular ones. Some might say that’s because the “average blog reader” is not as “literate” as say a more “literary reader.” Or perhaps my first-draft offline reviewers did not make very good “literary” judges. Whichever way you look at it, and whatever you choose to call “literature,” I’d say the best writing is the writing that gets read by the people, and yet enlightens them a little through entertaining and informing. Perhaps your virgin queen thought so too, when she supported and defended Shakespeare’s plays, which were written in an easily-understandable and sometimes even vernacular at the time. (Or did she, and were they? Don’t trust me — as you say in your essa, you know us bloggers, we’ll say anything. 😉 )

      Anyway, really happy you came to visit, and I guess I owe my thanks to SoundEagle’s Quotation Fallacy post for that — loved your comments on it, especially: “Somehow the garbled quality of the translation creates a space he’s able to inhabit beautifully” — sheer poetry! Also, of course, I’m a big fan of Yogi Bear, whom I mistook for Yogi Berra, in your first comment, or vice versa. (I’m clueless when it comes to baseball. But I know how to put out a fire. [No, wait, that’s Smokey Bear! I have my bearras twice confused!]) The good thing is that writing and reading give my wit time to catch up with my stupidity, so that the two may be properly married. Sort of like your virgin queen to her politic body, or “body politic” 😉 (Loved that part of your essay, too, by the way.)

      xo n

      P.S. For anyone reading this who’s into the ol’ Shakester and and/or his sometimes-naughty wordplay, this is a fun little article published by a regal outlet:

      Edit: Also, here is a link to the afore-mentioned article by SoundEagle, “The Quotation Fallacy,” for anyone fascinated by quotations, and also for anyone interested in witnessing astounding self-editing feats in situ, or as detailed in replies made to commenters by the fabulously (self- and other-)proclaimed, artistic and heuristic, SoundEagle himself: Enter at your own rabbit-holing risk, and if you do, please thoroughly enjoy your fall/flight through the wonderland of this particularly paradisical bird’s blog, and do leave a thoughtful comment to see what other-worldly results you may reap.


  2. In five years of blogging, I can count the negative comments I’ve received on one hand, and wow did they each sting. But also, they were all completely accurate and I grew from them. I just read your bloggers I love post, and while I’m not inviting negative comments, I too am grateful for the ones who criticize.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment Jeff. And yes, although criticism stings, I truly truly am grateful for the blogging friends who dare to thoughtfully criticize or question. And of course deeply grateful for the ones who sustain the work, by “liking” or praising.

      Liked by 1 person

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