On Feelings Of Magnificence & Abomination

“There is neither a proportional relationship, nor an inverse one, between a writer’s estimation of a work in progress and its actual quality. The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.”

– Annie Dillard in The Writing Life

Writer's Estimation vs Actual Quality - Annie Dillard, The Writing Life - sketchnote by Doug Neill

The reason I like that quote so much is that I think it applies to any creative project, from writing a book to composing music to building a business.

I myself have felt both of those feelings of magnificence and abomination on many occasions, and I appreciate the bluntness with which Dillard encourages us to squash those feelings like the mosquitoes that they are and just get back to work.

The quote reminds me of Anne Lamott’s description of station KFKD, that always-on radio station in your head that blasts two contradictory messages at once:

Station KFKD - Anne Lamott

“If you are not careful, station KFKD will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker in you inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything that one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationship well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on.”

“

The best way to get quiet, other than the combination of extensive therapy, Prozac, and a lobotomy, is first to notice that the station is on. KFKD is on every single morning when I sit down at my desk. So I sit for a moment and then say a small prayer—please help me get out of the way so I can write what wants to be written.”

– Anne Lamott in Bird By Bird

This idea also connects to a graph that Austin Kleon shared in his book Steal Like An Artist that depicts the same two emotions, in varying degrees, throughout the lifetime of a project:

The Life Of A Project - Austin Kleon - Steal Like An Artist

Ultimately, I think the takeaway is this: don’t get caught up in your own thoughts about the quality of the thing that you’re making. Put your energy instead toward taking the next step and getting a little bit closer to finishing.

Do that enough times and most every else will take care of itself.

-Doug

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