My column at First Things this week is all about the efficacy of the word “no” in our lives, and how deadening to the spirit and one’s own creative juices is can be to hear only praise, and no criticism:
Nothing quite so humbles as a tumble, and humility is often the deep place where creativity resides. When a successful artist or writer becomes so insulated from criticism that he never comprehends a failure, or when he has gone a decade or two without hearing the word “no” spoken in his direction, he has no friction, thus no traction; things become too easy. You hear an abundance of “yes” and very little “no,” and before you know it, you have nothing to say and no driving need to say it, so you coast on what you’ve done before. Think about it; what was the last great Steven Spielberg film? When was the last time Billy Joel of Stevie Wonder shouted out a tune you just couldn’t get out of your head?
There is an enormous irony to this piece. I wrote it in the wee small hours of Monday morning, and somehow, when I went to proofread it, I deleted the whole thing, and could not recover a word of it. At that point it was 1200 words — that’s a lot to recover. After weeping at my desk for a little while, I realized I was — in a way — facing a huge “no” and that I’d simply have to take it, (and “offer up” my frustration, too) and work hard trying to re-write the thing. It was like God saying, “put your money where your mouth is.”
The final copy ended up being better than the first, but I muttered at God quite a lot, “you think you’re so funny, O God of Ironies…”
Anyway, you can read it all here