Objectively, trying to top my best work gets harder and harder.
I think about this as I return to writing about obstacles to understanding and realizing personal and social “progress,” which I made the subject of a 2007 essay called Rising in Walls (in this anthology). Rising in Walls was probably the best work I wrote up to that point. I am still very proud of that treatment of these themes (sort of my improvement upon Colin Wilson’s exploratory questioning approach in The Outsider). However, I am now working with a different stylistic approach to conveying some related ideas, to see how I can improve upon what I did (or at least, add some different perspective in a more gripping style). This is also a 2010 from-scratch rewrite of my original attempt at a “central” Promethean synthesis (last version, 2003) which adds more pressure.
Such a task could be quite unnerving, and it’s never easy to always say, “right, that was good, or even great—how do I do better next time?”
But the really interesting thing is this: I’ve noticed that over the past dozen years, I have somehow acquired more momentum behind doing just that (topping myself). It becomes less of a struggle, in some respects, though still quite the challenge.
I guess this relates in part to a research interest of Gregory Bateson, “deutero-learning” or second-order learning. “Learning how to learn” is a phenomenon that has been experimentally confirmed with new task performance on a graph, but there also seems to be second-order adaptation to facilitate creative processes. It seems the brain can adapt methods for encountering new challenges, in that sense, also.
Almost certainly this has to do with acquiring more flexibility, such as more models to use to think, and more colors in my creative palette so to speak, and fewer unneeded “rules” for myself.
More confidence, also. My motto now is to have no fear; I trust my creative instincts and take risks in changing up what I’ve already written, without worrying half as much as I used to.
It’s an amazingly gratifying thing to actually experience—one of the special rewards for devoting your life to “mastering” something as Bateson put it, one that really only becomes clear after a number of years of intense work and intense reevaluation.