It’s shocking, isn’t it, how many writers never write? So many of us walk around with the internal label “writer” because for many years we believed on some level that a novel would one day burst forth out of us like a babe being born. We were sure that all that thinking about a novel as we walked the dog, showered, or spaced-out during a meeting was a metaphorical gestation period during which all the work was being done for us by our subconscious as we went about our days. No need to “practice,” no need to “budget time for writing” or “in any way make it a priority.” Do mom’s have to budget time to grow their baby? One day, we were sure, it would just happen. We’d sit down at the computer and out will pop our new born – bloody and beautiful and fully formed with the book equivalent of all ten fingers and toes: a clear beginning, middle and end. Huzzah! Pass the cigars! It’s a Pulitzer-winner!
Largely, we believed this because at some point in our lives, this was actually how writing worked. There was that great short story we wrote in Junior High, remember? And that one in college that all our friends agreed was proof we were meant to be a writer. Raw talent was clearly enough back then. No need for discipline.
And here we sit, 15 years later, the first seeds of doubt beginning to form. Did we have it right back then – just let the inspiration come, don’t force it?
Thing is…when was the last time it actually came? When was the last short story? The last poem? Where’s the novel that is surely past the due date by now?
Then: the fear, supported in full force by random facts we have accumulated. Have we waited too long? Science says our brains are at their best, most acute, fastest, in our 20s. If we don’t practice skills, those parts of our brain atrophy! Atrophy, I say! How can our brain learn to write again!?
Sometimes, it breaks our hearts, reading back over thosesolid stories of our past, or the first ten pages we wrote of a novel five years ago and then abandoned. It was so good. We were so good. Why did we think it was bad? Now. Now is when we are bad.
I’ve been through all of this. This fear is the worst – the tremendous, soul-crushing belief that I’ll never, ever be the writer I could have been if I had just had the damn worth ethic to do it. If I had just believed then that “good” isn’t the question – the question is will you shut up and write it already? With the fear came the jealousy of those who seem to be able to do what I stopped doing when I hit my 20s – writing for fun. Just for fun. Anxiety about what others would think of my work made an ironic appearance after adolescence ended. I still can’t say why, except to speculate that the worry center of my brain needed something to do now that high school was over.
With the increased anxiety, masked as procrastination, came decreased output. There was something of a cycle to this all the way to my mid-30s.
Then, a friend changed things for me with one little comment – something that wasn’t even about writing, yet shifted my perspective in a way that seemed to ripple across all aspects of my life.
“Some day we will look back on all of this and think, ‘My God, we were so young,’” she said.
First, I immediately changed my thinking on aging. If every time I look at a picture of myself five years ago I think I looked impossibly young, then doesn’t it stand to reason that five years from now I will think it too? And five years from then? The conclusion: we are always so young. We are always just kids.
So, if every time I read something – no matter how small – that I wrote some time ago I think it provides evidence of a talented writer, then that will be true of what I write now, then. Then, like one of those Magic Eye paintings that I could never see, but people told me contained hidden pictures, reality became something new and in place of the fear came a different inner dialogue.
“For the record,” it said, “science also tells us the brain is plastic.” It is never to late to train it to move, to behave, to function in ways more to your liking. Want a writer’s brain? Simple: write. Put aside the fear – it means nothing. It’s an illusion based on the assumption that the quality of what you’re writing matters. It really doesn’t. Think about it: if there is a God or a consciousness to the universe, then that consciousness must put more value on the act of writing in the first place, the way that it screams against the void, than how good it is. If there is no consciousness and there is only us, then surely there is nothing smaller and less important in human existence than little opinions about little pieces of prose. They are nothing more than electric impulses in a complicated mass of flesh. Even if someone finds your work after you have died – even if they read it and think “Oh, how sad. He was a nice guy, but this is just terrible,” – what harm? You’re not torturing puppies. You’re not raping the land to build an evil empire. You’re just a mediocre writer.
And that’s at worst. At best, you are a genius. At best, you write a book that finds its audience and you earn millions of loyal fans who know just what you mean. A movie is made. Conventions are held in your honor. At night you sleep sound, having put all your worries, demons, triumphs and love affairs on the page, leaving your mind to rest in peace for 8 solid hours of beautiful dreams.
Or, just think of it this way: if Stephanie Meyer can find an audience, so can you.
So…why not write? What have you go to lose? My God – you are so young.
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