The Midium

Your Art and the Inner Saboteur: How Words Decide Who Wins

Scarlet Fox overcomes the inner saboteur and just makes her music.

At first I wanted to write about defeating the most destructive and pervasive creative block: the inner saboteur.  When I realized that the inner saboteur––despite how it can defeat and dominate us so easily if we are not vigilant––is just a disembodied voice, I decided I needed to start by discussing how words and language affect us as artists.

Mine and Cam's little daughter, Melody Nightingale Wednesday, does not use words. 

She communicates with gestures, sound, and facial expressions, for now.  She is only nine-months-old and does not yet know the world in terms of words and language. 
Words are wonderful gifts that we give our children.  Once she understands the concept of language and how to use it, she will be able to reveal her thoughts, assert her needs and express her feelings with a new ease and freedom unknown to her thus far.  It will most likely feel like a miracle, like a kind of magic to her.  I am looking forward to her being able to use words and language to communicate what she has to say about her identity, values, and what she wants in life.  I am thrilled to know that she will soon find words to be a powerful tool that she can also use to explore and pursue her goals.  All of this considered, I look forward to the day when I can use the power of language and my own words to encourage her dreams and efforts, whatever they may be. 
Still, I also realize that when she does learn the meaning of words (how to use words and how to listen to the words of others), not everything she hears will be encouraging.  She will hear many things and will have to reason through the meaning and intent of words said around her and to her.   As she gets older and hears a growing chorus of voices coming from many directions, not all words spoken to her will be positive or kind, nor will all advice be constructive.  She will have to sift through criticism given by those who claim to have good intentions and discover that many people are motivated by envy, fear, or resentment when they speak.  Others may offer negative or confusing opinions about work she has created without bothering to understand it first.
Words are powerful, indeed.  There are times when they may be devastating and discouraging; while others can use them against her, she may end up using them against herself, as well.   All of us have felt the weight of words, whether we are in the middle of an artistic project, or just about any other setting.  It is when we begin directing them against ourselves that we hear the whispers of our inner saboteur.  
As I watch Melody Nightingale Wednesday slam her little fists on her toy roll up piano and create amazing music all her own, I wish this confidence––this joy of exploration in the world of sound and art––could remain unhindered forever.   I wish to shield her from any discouragement.  I wish those around her will only ever support her work.   When expressing opinions, I wish her audience to only offer clear constructive thoughts, aligned with what she has proclaimed is her intention for her creative projects.

When she learns her words I want only the happy and supportive phrases to stick and replay themselves in her mind.   I want her to replay sentences of love and enthusiasm for every beautiful thing she tries to learn and do.
When she does understand human language, I know that she will eventually hear things that might even discourage her from pursuing her goals and dreams at all.  If words that she understands to be discouraging come from an authority figure in her life, or an authority in the field of the interest she is pursuing, they will have more weight and volume in her mind and be more challenging to filter, reason through, or silence.  If dismissive or negative words come from those who love her or care about her, it will be confusing, and it will be all too easy for her to accept their opinions as fact, without argument.  If she is not vigilant against negativity in her creative path, she may even begin to believe that these words originate from her own mind.   The inner saboteur's voice would then be at a comfortable speaking level, making it more intelligible and believable.

The inner saboteur may be looking over your shoulder.  Don't look back.  Keep playing!

There is a way to keep the inner saboteur at bay and overcome it, regardless of age or station.  It takes patience, resilience, and love.
Repeating positive affirmations to Melody Nightingale Wednesday and giving her love, encouragement, and support through my own words would be important first steps.  I’ll teach her how to silence negativity, how to talk herself out of defeatist mindsets, and end any destructive phrases and loops that may influence her at any point in her life.  All of these things affect us at some point.  The most important thing is to know how to recognize the inner saboteur and how to tell it that it's time is up.
Long ago, I understood that it takes determination to face the inner saboteur for as long as needed to ensure that it is under control.  Nevertheless, I ask myself: How can I make my daughter resilient to disheartening words and keep her focused on her dreams, regardless of what anyone says?  I can’t control the negative criticism she will receive from the outside world, but I think I can help defeat her inner saboteur when the time comes.  After all, the inner saboteur is only created by those outside voices that we let in, that we allow to have space to speak their misguided and even cruel opinions. 
I will dedicate myself to teaching her that even those who claim to have her best interest in mind, and who only want to make her a better artist, don’t always need to be heard or considered.  The artist's most important voice is their own.  If she does want to consider constructive criticism, then she has control over what she can take from it.  I must teach her that no one has supreme authority over art and what art should be, and that she has ultimate freedom and support from Cam and me.   One way to achieve this is to set a good example.  I can show her by being kind to my own art and myself.  If I am confident and positive towards my creative endeavors and allow myself room to explore, she will learn that there are indeed ways to handle criticism and defeat the voice of the inner saboteur through patience, resilience and love. 
Another way is to be kind and constructive when sharing my point about the work of other artists.   I have always enjoyed a variety of different kinds of creative expression and I truly believe that life is more fulfilling when you choose to appreciate the artistic efforts of others, rather than come from an authoritative or critical place.  Even if I do not care for––or understand––a work of art, I owe it to the artist and to Melody to set the right example by using constructive words when I share my thoughts on it.  We can share our true thoughts and opinions on the work of other artists, but there is never a reason to be hurtful.
I want my Melody Nightingale Wednesday to be so strong that nothing will deter her from her creative dreams––or any dreams, for that matter.  I want her to push through the negative phrases and voices that she hears that try to stop her, cause her to procrastinate, or make her feel like she’s not good enough. I want her to overcome them, then replace them with positive affirmations, joyful songs, and happy adventurous musings.

And I want the same for you.  Whenever the inner saboteur gets in your ear, I want you to take back control of the words you hear and the words you allow to have space (or authority) in what you do with your time and your energy.  I want you to be confident in your goals, confident in your art and have fun with music.   It doesn’t matter if everyone loves your work, everyone hates your work, or if no one seems to notice.   If you feel embarrassed about where you are at or what you have done, shake it off and be kind to yourself.  Tell yourself something encouraging that you wish someone on the outside would tell you.  You deserve encouragement.  Your work is important and special, and it deserves to be created and given an audience.  Present your work.  Get an audience and be strong, whether they understand what you have to say or not. 
Be resilient, adventurous, patient, and have love in your heart when others appreciate your work, and when they don't.  Music, art, and every form of creative self-expression are yours.  Do your best, your best is great!  Love your work.  Those are my words to you. 
Now, use your own words to build yourself up and carry yourself forward to the realization of your creative goals.   Your words are the most powerful of all. 

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done.  Let everyone else decide if it is good or bad, whether they love it or hate it.  While they are deciding, make more art.”-----Andy Warhol