On fear of judgement (and pernicious perfectionism)
Letting judgment fall where it may

An altar to the Tenth Muse

A detail from ''The Angel of Childhood'' by Terri Windling

In her essay "Nine Beginnings," Margaret Atwood discusses why so many talented young people lose interest in writing as they grow up. The essay was published in a book about women authors and she focuses on issues common among girls, but I'm sure there are boys and men out there who will relate to this as well:

"There's a lack of self-confidence that gets instilled very early in many young girls, before writing is ever seen as a possibility. You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer, an almost physical nerve, the kind you need to walk a log across a river. The horse throws you and you get back on the horse. I learned to swim by being dropped in the water. You need to know you can sink, and survive it. Girls should be allowed to play in the mud. They should be released from the obligations of perfection. Some of your writing, at least, should be as evanescent as play.

"A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The waste basket has evolved for a reason. Think of it as the altar of the Muse of Oblivion, to whom you sacrifice your botched first drafts, the tokens of your human imperfection. She is the tenth muse, the one without whom none of the others can function. The gift she offers you is the freedom of the second chance. Or as many chances as you'll take."

Sketchbook page, Terri WindlingArt above: A detail from my painting "The Angel of Childhood" (which now hangs in a Family Room of the New York court system, watching over children who are waiting to testify in court), and some "little people" on a sketchbook page. Atwood's essay was published in The Writer on Her Work, edited by Janet Sternburg (Virago Press, 1992)

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