For as long as I can remember, my relationship to my creative endeavors has been marked by a strong desire to recoil. This is especially true of writing projects, past and present, and very well may include this blog post, which I might never look at again after I hit “Publish” (although, truthfully, this type of content isn’t particularly cringe-inducing). It’s a feeling that I understand is fairly common among writers and other artists. That instinctive need to turn one’s back on a project after releasing it to the world. The urge to hide from it, to shrink away from the thing you’ve made, as if you’ve created something monstrous, something menacing, something that has the power to wound. It may even include a desire to cleanse, to erase, or to eradicate a feeling, a moment, or a former part of ourselves that a particular piece represents. It is a gauge of uncomfortability. It is a compulsive flinch. And it can be an obstacle, if not managed.

For a long time, I considered the flinch to be a source of weakness. Indeed, I thought my own discomfort with the creative process meant I was “doing it wrong.” I thought I was being overly self-critical (because I can be sometimes). Perhaps my work was revealing an aspect of my personality that made me uncomfortable (always possible). Or maybe I am perennially insecure (Nah. Then again…what if I AM?). If I am to look at the flinch as a sign of weakness, as an opponent that must be conquered, then, surely I am setting myself up for failure. Because, while all of the factors I just listed may, to varying degrees on different occasions, contribute to that feeling, I don’t believe that any of them is sufficient to explain the phenomenon that is the flinch.

Because it isn’t all bad. For as strongly as I may feel the need to recoil from my work (or, say, to hit “Delete” on a certain post), I am every bit as motivated to market it to the world. I want everyone to read what I have written because I do believe it has merit and that it’s executed with a sufficient degree of finesse. And yet, there remains a part of me that can’t bring herself to go back and read it again because Oh my God, how could I have written that?! What was I thinking? DELETE. DELETE. DELETE.

That’s the flinch. It’s love-hate. It’s confidence coupled with browbeating insecurity and self-doubt. It is fear. Most importantly, it can be a recognition that your most abundant talents are also your greatest vulnerabilities and, as such, require a bit of reckoning. Your creativity continually beseeches you to lay yourself bare. It summons you, in all of your imperfections and inner turmoil, your chaos and strangeness, to let whatever force is inside of you out. For yourself and for the world. Because it’s what we all need.

Here are some thoughts on grappling with the flinch.

reflection of dark dame

Don’t let it push you around.

I think the worst thing you can do when faced with the urge to bury your work in the back yard is to actually bury it. Don’t do it. If you look back at an old blog post and feel pangs of self-doubt, embarrassment, or awkwardness, don’t hit delete (unless it is truly damaging to your reputation or someone else’s, you’re radically revising your concept, or you have another equally compelling reason to do so). If you’re feeling the flinch, then leave your work where it is and how it is. Remain exposed. It is a way of training yourself to deal with being uncomfortable. You’ll learn to muster courage—to act in the face of fear. The harder you train, the better you will be. And the size of the flinch will shrink in proportion to your courage to stare it down. Think: eye of the tiger.

Look forward, not back.

As noted above, my desire to recoil from my work is predictably coupled with an urge to shout it out to the entire universe. So, I channel my energies into the latter. I focus on marketing: on networking, building a brand, and an audience. That keeps me from concentrating on how vulnerable I may also feel. Recognize the flinch when you feel it, but don’t dwell on it. Keep moving forward in a focused direction.

Make it useful.

I no longer think of the flinch as a measure of my shortcomings or as a signal for radical self-improvement. Because I am not certain that I could make it disappear no matter how hard I tried. Perhaps that is a result of my own imperfections. Or perhaps the flinch actually serves a purpose.

Indeed, I now prefer to think of the flinch in terms of its usefulness, primarily as a gauge of quality. Over the years, I have noticed that the more uncomfortable a particular piece of writing makes me, the better it tends to be. The converse it also true: pieces that are easier for me to digest tend to lack in power and authenticity. Learning how and under what circumstances you feel the flinch can help you gain valuable insight into what that feeling is trying to tell you. As a measure of quality, despite its unpleasantness, the flinch never fails to let me know when I’ve done good. It’s just got a funny way of showing its approval.

39 responses to “Flinch.”

  1. This post very beautifully illustrates my creative (but particularly my writing) process perfectly. I think the flinch is purely a self defence mechanism and you are correct the only way is through. Writers do not give themselves credit for being brave enough to put themselves “out there.” Great post thankyou – I’ll have to reblog this.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you very much for the thoughtful comment! It’s nice to know I’m not alone in feeling this way. 🙂 It’s that inner battle that is often the most difficult to overcome when putting ourselves “out there.” And it’s always good to know there are others who go through the same thing!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I enjoy hearing how another’s process works. I could identify with some of the things you go through, and where different I smiled, because it was a reminder of how unique we are, too.

    I had a lot of trouble finishing writing projects for years. I would start a story and then sort of run out of gas. Looking back, it’s clear now it was a touch of both depression and insecurity. I didn’t have the confidence to keep going when things got difficult. In my 30s, I went back to school, got a degree in journalism and worked for a few years at newspapers as a reporter and editor in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment where there was no time for self-doubt. The structure of deadlines got me over the hump. I came to love writing under pressure, and eventually that training taught me how to approach writing as a professional, and not as a moody artistic type. It might not work for everyone, but did for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can certainly see how writing for a deadline would force you past internal obstacles. It’s funny, I too, feel I do my best work under pressure. Always have. Once panic sets in, I know I’m in for one heck of a a ride 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Haha. Yes. 🙂 In fact, I got so used to working with the feeling of impending doom (they took the term ‘deadline’ literally at one paper), I found it was useful when I was no longer there and just needed to motivate myself. What’s the thing people say about combat, that if you’re not scared you’re not normal? I llike working scared, I guess.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I kind of have the opposite reaction. Before I release something to world, I criticize it, I see all it’s flaws, sometimes I procrastinate finishing it, I’ll work on a different project to put off the one I’m worried about. Once it’s out in the world though, I like looking at it and seeing it there. Sometimes I regret what I made, but most of the time I don’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s fascinating how differently we all approach the same endeavors! It does seem like you and I are opposites here. I almost wish I could inject a “healthy dose” of your approach into mine, for the sake of balance.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve deleted blogs because of this. But here I am trying again. Thank you for putting to words the uncomfortable feeling I could never describe!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Firstly, you write very clearly about things that are often fuzzy. As I read “Flinch”, it brought to mind a quote (paraphrasing) “one who cannot howl will not find their pack”. The creative endeavors that make us flinch are the howls into the wilderness. I appreciate the process you speak on regarding desensitization and seeing the yin and yang of flinching.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for the kind words and for linking to my post! It is always my aim to shed light on experiences that appear murky or complicated, especially to those who haven’t experienced them firsthand. I like your analogy using the howl. You’re right…and in a very guttural sense, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree with msjadeli, you really do write about feelings that are very hard to articulate – and so I am able to recognise and relate to a great deal of what you are saying. I forced myself to read the physical proof copy of my novel in my own hands, turning the pages, before releasing it into the world, not for proofreading (done to death) but to ‘own’ it as I was flinching all over the place! If I hadn’t done this I’d be doing mega level flinching knowing some people are now reading it… as it is, I’m ok about it, could I go so far as to say, I’m pleased? not quite yet, just glad the deed is done. It is a self defence mechanism, but I think its a healthy one as you’ve concluded, I’d rather err that way, than be someone who believes writing is easy and that they’re brilliant at it. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lynne! It is great that you take the time to condition yourself to that feeling by reading your work in hard copy before others do. I sometimes rush through those final stages because I am flinching too much! And that’s no good. I do think you are correct about being overconfident–I wouldn’t want to be one of those writers who basks in their own perceived brilliance. They’re hard to respect.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I use my posts as a barometer. Then I delete everything Monday at midnight. True it does nothing for my SEO or Google. Only, I don’t really care about that stuff.

    Mainstream Art gets ridiculed for being ridiculous. The performers then visit hospitals and kiss baldheaded kids, donate to Feminism, condemn Trump. All the while even they cannot escape the creative hole.

    Truth, we as artists amass this dictionary sized creative space and in return. We get a link on Google from our, interests. All the ads, videos, and revenue pass over us. It’s the digital starving artist. So, one of the gay genius writers that are praised by confused macho hetero men said, “Kill your darlings.”

    Not that I don’t care about the creation. I created the space and in that moment I recycle it. My social media is molded clay and someday, starving artists will not starve. Pigs may also fly later that afternoon.

    Liked by 1 person

      • It really is a constant effort with little gratification and especially in this century of instant gratification by consumers, the artist is consumed. You are only “found” once and then it’s everything after that’s “genius.” So, either you play the game or remain a relic.

        I’m old. I have a real labor job. I’ll draw until I can’t without that expectation of being “found.” That, America, never liked me anyways.

        Liked by 2 people

      • After a hard day of farm labor, my hands cannot close over my pen. My back cannot allow me to sit. So, I put them away and just close my eyes and listen. Then, I draw what I’m hearing. You are right, it’s the exhale. Like when the waves smooth the sand.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m sorry, I’ve got the impressión that my reply has gone to your spam folder or somewhere, because I can’t see it now. Anyway I was saying that it’s a good kind of writing. That it feels good when someone can put words to certain thoughts and feelings which I can relate to. (Sorry if the comment comes double :))

        Liked by 1 person

      • It did go to spam. My apologies! I just read this. And thank you for the warm compliments. It is always refreshing when others put into words certain complex thoughts and experiences that we all share. I think that’s one reason I enjoy writing about the quality of inner experiences so much: I find it’s wonderful and refreshing to connect with others that way.

        Liked by 1 person

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