Step 4: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Let me start the 4th step stuff with this quote:
“Another writer’s blockage—a more serious blockage—may arise from an excessive need for a success not actually related to good writing: an excessive need to please admirers (that is, to be loved), or prove himself vastly superior to others (that is, to be superhuman), or justify his existence against the too obstreperous cry of some old psychological wound (that is, to be redeemed). No amount of work can solve this writer’s problem, because nothing he writes satisfies the actual motive behind it.”
–John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist, 135
In the 4th step, we inventory exactly what is keeping us wounded and blocked and scared like rabbits on the road. It’s probably my favorite step because we get to write and I’m a writer. I’ve learned, though, it’s not about quantity, but more about quality. To really get to the heart of who I am, it doesn’t take many words or many resentments, just some good soul-searching.
In the 4th step, taken from the book of Alcoholics Anonymous, affectionately called the “Big Book,” there are three parts: Resentments, fears, and sex. In writing, I haven’t had much to write about sex—writing is lonely thing, so I’ll just concentrate on the first two.
Let’s take resentments as any negative feeling we feel over and over. Generally, resentments are colored by anger, envy, or self-pity (my personal favorite). I’ve heard it said before that self-pity is the coward’s form of resentment. That’s me. Big coward.
So when I think about writing and I get angry over how unfair the publishing industry is, well, that’s a perfect resentment to start with. Just perfect.
Or another good one is when someone in my critique group has a huge success, and I feel so much envy I can’t write. I hate them. God loves them, not me, so why bother? Yeah, been there. It’s ugly.
But self-pity is such a lovely thing for a writer to feel. Oh, how cursed I am to want to write, to spend hours and hours of my life struggling to write something worth reading only to fail because I don’t have a literary agent and my e-pubbed books sales are so dismal. This is when I take my hand, put it squarely on my forehead, and give the universe the self-pity salute. Oh, woe is me.
The basic fourth step is that we list out what we are resentful of, people, places, and things. I resented California for years—it took away my innocence, that modern-day Babylon. California! When will you fall into the ocean so I can be done with you!!!
So we make a list of resentments, then write down why we are resentful, and then what that affects: our self-esteem, ambition, security, pocketbook, personal relations, or sex relations.
For those keeping track, that’s three columns. The fourth column is where the real work is done. That’s where we see what our part is in the drama. Where was I selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid. Not “or,” but “and.” Every resentment I have I am all of those things; selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid. Most of the times I’m just dishonest with myself, but not always.
So those are the first four columns and it looks like this:
The person, place, thing I resent. Resentment is re-feeling a negative emotion over and over
List the causes of the resentment.
How does this resentment affect my self-esteem, security, ambition, pocketbook, personal relations, or sex relations.We are trying to get to belief systems – use these prompts:self-esteem – I am…
security – I need…
ambition – I want…
Pocketbook – NA
personal relations – A real woman…
sex relations – A real man…
Where have I been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid? Read self-seeking as image management. How do I want people to see me?
Next week I’ll give you specific examples.