A friend of mine recently attended her first ever writing class. She was really nervous. She didn’t know if she’d “fit” there. She thought maybe she wasn’t brilliant or wacky or temperamental enough to be a writer.
She showed up, and things were going along okay, and then the teacher said this: “If you’re not willing to reveal everything about yourself, you have no business being a writer.”
Ouch. My friend felt like a hermit crab retreating into its shell. It had been hard enough just getting herself to the class, and now here’s someone in a position of authority saying that if she doesn’t put it all out there, she has no right to write.
Here’s the thing:
When we begin something new, we are tentative. This is normal. Feeling tentative does not mean we are not serious or that we “won’t make it.” We need to start small, and stretch ourselves a little each time we begin again. And little by little, we become less tentative. We take bigger risks.
When we create, we are exposing pieces of ourselves. We are saying, in essence, this is what fascinates me, this is what I struggle with, this is what I really care about. And that can be hard. That can be terrifying. Particularly if we’re just starting out. And even if we’re seasoned creators, we continue to explore new territory and there’s always an element of fear in that.
Starting small and feeling tentative about it is so much better than not starting at all.
And this is exactly why we need to start small if we are really, really afraid. If you get vertigo when you stand on a chair, you don’t climb up a bell tower and look down (well, unless you are Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, but you get my point).
Some new writers are excited and motivated by the idea of “laying it all on the line.” And that’s terrific.
But if you’re not excited and motivated by that, if it scares the hell out of you, that doesn’t make you any less a writer. And you shouldn’t have to hide this fear because you’re afraid someone will tell you that if you don’t want to lay it all on the line, it means you “don’t really want it.”
And here’s another truth: The more you care about something, the more tender the subject, the closer it is to your very essence, the harder it’s going to be to write about — or, at least, the harder it’s going to be to share with others.
But this doesn’t mean that, if you’re not feeling ready to do that now, you have no business being a writer. It just means you’re not feeling ready to do that now.
Here’s a question I like: What might help me to feel a little more okay about starting?
Obviously, the idea that she had to be willing to reveal everything about herself shut my friend down. She didn’t want to return to the second writing class; she didn’t even want to write.
So here’s what we worked out together. We changed “I have to be willing to reveal everything about myself” to “I’m willing to reveal some things about myself.” This felt much better to her. And here’s another thought that felt true for her: “I have the right to be a writer because I have a deep desire to write.”
I tell this story because we create resistance when we believe black-and-white, all-or-nothing thoughts about our creativity. There’s no “right” way to create. You can be a “real” writer even if you are not putting one hundred percent of your inner turmoil out there for the world to see.
Here’s what I’ve found: I can usually do more and go farther than I thought I could. But I don’t find that out if I don’t give myself full permission to meet myself where I am. If I set up a challenge for myself that feels insurmountable (or, when it comes down to it, undesirable), I’m going to shut down.
So give yourself full permission to be a beginner (and we’re all beginning, again and again and again). If someone criticizes you for being “too tentative,” or “not serious,” say, “‘I am serious. I’m seriously tentative. I’m trying something new.” And then tell them they have to stop criticizing you. And this goes double if you’re criticizing yourself.
If a belief shuts you down, it’s not the truth for you. There are as many kinds of creators as there are human beings who have the desire to create. And we’re all motivated in different ways. It’s not one-size-fits-all, and thank goodness for that.
Image is MESSY PAINTS © Paige Foster | Dreamstime.com