I told a friend of mine who I am meeting tonight that I was suffering a prolapse of writer confidence, and added, half jokingly, that if it didn’t happen once during the process it wouldn’t be a novel. It got me thinking a bit about why that is. Why are there so many jokes about the supremely insecure writer, timid and cowed in his or her writing space, sweating as they stare at the blank page (or the horrible first draft, for that matter)? My husband, as I whined out all my sorrows last night, said he wanted to reach over and shake me out of it. I lamented, “I can’t help it, I’m a writer!” But can’t I? Can’t we?
I typed into Google, “writer insecurity” (like it’s some disease), and watched page after page of articles and online groups fill my screen. I knew everything those groups were saying. ‘Hang in there, you don’t suck, it’s okay, you’ll be fine, breathe.’ In so many words, anyway. The truth was I didn’t even want to read the articles and blogs or look at the lament of so many others walking the same path, not because I didn’t care, but because I couldn’t handle seeing how many of us are afflicted by this torture. And, if I were to jump at a number to make myself look super official while knowing nothing, I’d say about 90% of writers feel, at some point, like what they have to say isn’t worth it, or is coming out wrong, or is worthless, or that they don’t have talent/skill/craft.
Inwardly, I was berating myself in my best drill sergeant voice: “Pick yourself up, maggot, and quit your crybaby sissiness! Do what you need to do and stop whining, Mary! Write, Sally-girl, and get over yourself!” (Yeah, I’m a woman, and yeah, somehow my drill sergeant is a man, I don’t know why.)
I stumbled across a short snippet in Google that I *did* open, which was a trackback for a blog entry on a Christian site. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not dogmatic, but the truth is, if you look deeper than the surface, you can see the humanity in everything and the spirit of compassion. I decided to give it my full attention. I’m going to quote the part that hit me like a freight train between the eyes:
“I used to think my self-doubt and insecurity about writing were signs of my profound humility. It felt noble and heroic to be this full of agonizing self-doubt. It felt lowly and meek to be so tortured about whether or not I could write. I could almost hear the soundtrack and the violins. If there’d been open, windswept moors nearby, I’d have been on them.
But that’s the thing about pride. It hides itself.
The more I go on, the more I realize, it’s entirely the other way round. Our self-doubt and insecurity don’t reveal our humility; they mask our pride.
When you’re doubting whether you can do it, whether you’re a good writer, you’re looking to yourself, what you can do, what resources you have. You’re focused entirely inwardly, on yourself.
It’s pride because it means you think it’s all about you.
But if you realize it’s not about you — that whatever you have is a gift from God — if, in other words, you get out of the way — then you can be fearless. There is no vision too great, nothing too outrageous to dream, nothing too impossible to dare.”
(From: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/self-doubt-and-writing by Sally Lloyd-Jones)
Suddenly, I remembered all the things I’d read before about being an artist and wordsmith. Trust, trust, believe, believe, write, write, and get out of your own way. What does that mean, to get out of your own way, and why do we fail at doing it so many times?
Well, the way I look at it is this: We try so hard to control what happens in our lives because life, quite frankly, is not in our control. The problem comes when life happens; something we’re trying to control veers to the left when we want it to go right, and we’re in a panic. ‘No no, that’s not right! That’s not supposed to happen!’ We get shaken because we could have sworn it was all under our control. That’s the pride. We’ve been thrown a curve ball that we know we can’t hit, so we start lamenting.
I’ll put it in writer’s terms: You just sat down to the keyboard because that’s the routine and you wrote something hideous when you anticipated at least some semblance of readability. Rather than acknowledging that you wrote something (an accomplishment regardless) and will take care of the beauty portion later, you take that snippet as a representation of your entire writing style. Hyperbole, much? Of course! (But this isn’t hyperbole, it’s the truth!) You start to think back over how your first novel was a writhing pile of poo and maybe you haven’t grown as much as you think you have. Maybe you don’t have the skills to do this project. Who do you think you are? What do you think you’re doing?
Okay, so maybe that’s my inner voice above, but I’m betting my friend Ego is probably a similar sounding friend to people outside of myself.
So get out of your own way? It means to pick up your Ego like the two-year-old-throwing-a-temper-tantrum it is, give it a gentle squeeze, tell it, “Yes, I love you, still,” put it down, and get back to work. It means knowing that all the “I hate you’s” in the world that come from the mouth of your childish Ego aren’t true and that, just like a parent, you must gently smile and keep right on loving that part yourself and all you do outside of it. It’s all about patience and self-love, and those aren’t impossibly lofty goals when you start small. Pride won’t serve you, but patience, love, and trust certainly will.
So, I’ll end by saying that it’s not easy, but every single one of us has a story to tell and a voice to tell it, be it through writing, drawing, painting, dancing, singing, philanthropy, charity, entrepreneurialism, climbing mountains to inspire others, or just being a patient listener to a friend who is down. We all are worth it and when we trust that we have a message to share, the right people will receive it. We no longer have to worry about the small stuff – and as much as we don’t feel at the moment that it’s small stuff – (incoming cliché that is terribly true) it’s all small stuff.
Time to get back to work!
(image from: http://dankrall.blogspot.com, January 20,2013 entry.)