So, it turns out this Superman bloke is a pretty tough guy.
He can bend steel with his bare hands.
He can fly around the earth to reverse time.
He can even make the milk in your latté extra hot just by looking at it.
But, sometimes, it all gets a bit much, even for him.
This is when he needs to retreat into his safe place.
For the last son of Krypton, that safe place is a pied-a-terre he’s had set up in the arctic tundra called the Fortress of Solitude.
It’s a little grand for a weekend getaway. And I’m not suggesting you start investing in Artic real estate anytime soon.
But I do think the Fortress of Solitude metaphor is a useful one when you’re worrying about all the weird ideas and conflicting thoughts in your head, when you’re anxious you might not quite have a handle on them.
If you’re less ofay with comic book geekery, the Fortress of Solitude is basically Superman’s Batcave.
Wait, I’ve used another comic book reference there. That defeats the point.
Basically, it’s a potting shed.
It’s the place at the bottom of the garden you go to get away from it all.
It’s here, in his icy shed, that Superman keeps all his books (though technically they’re in the form of crystals – flash git), souvenirs from his home planet (unfortunately destroyed) and – in one comic timeline – a chess-playing robot.
It’s all pretty basic ‘safe place’ stuff (aside from the chess-playing robot). And it’s always good to have nice things around, items to trigger Proustian reveries of more innocent times.
But here’s the thing about the Fortress of Solitude.
It’s also where Superman keeps his secrets.
Here are his parents. Here is his history. Here are the clues to what harms him. His worries. His fears. It’s where he can be himself. And doubt himself. It’s where he can be vulnerable. The Fortress of Solitude is the source of his greatest strengths and his greatest weaknesses.
And this is crucial.
Because just as Superman needs a place where he can be himself amongst the memory of his parents, the history of his past and the truth about his powers.
It’s the same with your creative mind.
You can’t have all the good stuff around without having the bad stuff too.
The ideas, the originality, the fun, they can only be realised when you also accept the doubt, anxiety, and fear.
All of these different elements are an essential part of your creative process as a creative person.
To find peace with all these conflicting voices in your head, and your own personalised tote bag of insecurities, you need to remember your process as a writer is separate to your output as a writer.
This is important.
In an era of social media and oversharing, we’ve forgotten this.
The line between process and output has been wildly blurred.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad and we’ve blurred the line voluntarily. I will sometimes ‘show my working out’ online too.
It can be helpful to test the water and share elements of your process. Doing so can inspire others to create, which I’m all behind.
But the fact remains: your creative process is a personal and private act. It is only what you choose to share from your process – and what you ultimately create – that gets judged.
So you need to make sure you’re able to get your reckless right-brain expressing itself before your lecturing old left-brain starts overly analysing everything.
That’s what’s really happening here. It’s like a video conference call and everyone is speaking at once. But rather than shutting down the call completely or trying to mute your inner critics, you need to create an environment where they can all take turns to get their point across.
You need your mind to be a creative safe place, your own fortress of solitude.
I don’t want to cast aspersions on your financial affairs, but I’m going to take a wild guess and say you don’t have the budget to build a futuristic ice-based fortress in the arctic tundra. The air conditioning alone would be crippling.
Instead, we need to figure out how to make your mind a more peaceful place, where everyone gets their say.
It’s something the artist Grayson Perry is familiar with. He’s made his fortress a shed, inside his own head. It’s much more practical and a lot cheaper.
“My own creativity and art practice,” he says, “has been a mental shed. A sanctuary as well as a place of action – where I have returned to make things. It gives me a sense of security in a safe, enclosed space while I look out of the window onto the world. The shed was where I first learned how to make things, where my subconscious was schooled in colour, texture and the concept of making. I still have that excitement now, of being very glad that I’m a maker and that my internal shed is always available. I can retreat into my head while in bed or in the bath – wherever I am – to think about things I want to make.”
Here is someone who has successfully learned to be comfortable with the weird ideas that manifest themselves in their own head.
Far from worrying about tackling the demons, Grayson is able to embrace them in a positive and useful way.
They can roam around the shed, make a cup of tea, have a chat, draw a bath and really explore just how messed up and crazy they are.
At no point does anyone in this shed worry about what people outside of the shed think.
And, crucially, they don’t worry about what each other thinks either. They can bat weird ideas, maybe even unsettling ideas around at their leisure in the hope something interesting might surface. Happy demons.
And this is the aim.
To get yourself to a place where you can be comfortable inside your own head, to a place where you don’t worry about what might sneak out.