Not that I'm any sort of expert on anything, but in my short time observing others and observing myself and the patterns and routines with which we panic and flap through our days, I've grown increasingly certain that the greatest single detriment to any writer (or any composer, or any sandwich maker or parent or talk radio host) is the self. But let's keep it personal: my greatest single detriment is my self. The idea that I am unique. The idea that I am important. The idea that I am who I think I am.
Seriously. How can I know that I am me? Having never been anyone else, what evidence can I hold up for comparison? How can I trust the accuracy of my thoughts and feelings, being so firmly stuck in my own flawed, half-blind point of view? It is this exact quandary that makes that most elementary lesson in any creative writing class ("write what you know!") so amazingly useless. I cannot know what I do or don't know. So why not take a risk and step as far outside myself as possible?
This does not necessarily mean that one should always strive to create the most bizzaro characters living in the most alien landscapes. But it does mean allowing the freedom to escape the self's defining strictures, its inherent fears and tastes. Its ideas of what a story should be.
I'm probably off base (how would I know?). But as a student of shamanic practice and a student of documentary studies, I've witnessed a lot of startling, strange, terrifying things, yet regardless of the context, the primary lesson is the same: I am always the least important person in the room. Whether I'm wearing the mask or holding the microphone. My job is to channel and record the experience, never to control it.
Which isn't to say that you or I or any other maker is completely unimportant. It's more about knowing when best to disappear in the creative process. I think this act of stepping back, of fading out, is most concisely and elegantly illustrated in the song "Pat Tillman, Emmitt Till" by the band Make Believe, wherein the singer (novelist Tim Kinsella) describes a conversation with the musician Zach Hill:
My friend Zach insists he's not drumming fast.
In fact, Zach knows it's not even him playing.
It's just his ability to stay out of his own way.
The ability to stay out of your own way. What a beautiful skill to foster. Don't think. Don't know. Take the risk of relinquishing control. Do not write the story. Let the story write itself.
And when it's done? Polish that sucker 'til it shines.