You Have No Idea
At lunch with a friend recently, I heard the
“Every time I sit down to write, I just know that it’s terrible and I cringe that anyone has to read it, so I’m really glad I’m not a writer.”
My friend wasn’t a writer by profession. She was just talking about the writing she has to do for her regular job. Nonetheless, I told her that if she were a writer, I would tell her that the first thing she needs to do is get rid of the idea that she knows in advance if something she writes is going to be good or bad. The attitude that so many people have (often instilled in them from bad writing teachers in school) is what prevents a lot of us from unlocking our writing potential.
You’re not a bad writer.
You’re just getting started.
Telling yourself that you’re bad is the best way to never get started.
This idea that we prejudge what we’re good or bad at before we even put words to the page is just so damaging. And in our culture, people do it all over the place. I’m bad at music because I can’t just pick up an instrument and play a concerto. I’m bad at cooking because I burn things sometimes. I’m bad at exercising because I’m overweight or slow. I’m bad at dancing because I have to focus so hard on listening to the music that sometimes I step on someone else’s foot.
Caring about other people’s opinions is half the problem.
The other half of the problem is not giving yourself a chance.
I’m not saying everyone is destined to become Yo-Yo Ma if they’d just practice every day. But you can enjoy things even if you’re not making a profession out of them. And you may be surprised if you give yourself a chance to see what you can do if you stop telling yourself it’s impossible.
Everyone is bad to begin with. Yes, even professionals. My first draft of a novel is often terrible. And most of my ideas are laughably bad. You just don’t see all of them because I accept that most of what I write is going to be bad and I give myself permission to make mistakes and try it anyway. Then I choose the best parts. Later.
You have no idea what’s going to be good or bad while you’re producing it. This is one of the first rules that I think creative types need to learn. Especially at the beginning, you’re going to feel uncomfortable trying things out and you’re going to have to learn to withhold judgment for a little while.
I’m sitting right now on a short story that I’ve decided I need to give a couple of months before I decide whether or not I should send it out. That’s normal for me. Sometimes, I’m pleasantly surprised at how good something I wrote is. Sometimes the reverse happens and I put it away. Sometimes I cut out six chapters in a book and rewrite them all. Sometimes the idea of the book is good but every single word I’ve got down is wrong and it’s time to start from the beginning. This doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer. It means I’m a writer.
This process of judging good from bad is part of being a writer, but you’ve got nothing to judge if you don’t give yourself a chance.
I don’t know who told you that you’re a bad writer, but that’s not their job. A teacher isn’t supposed to give that as feedback. They’re supposed to help you get better. Spelling mistakes and run-on sentence issues are not problems that have stopped a bunch of professional writers I know. Trust me on this. That’s what copy editors are for.
Stop pre-judging your efforts before you even try. I mourn sometimes for the great works of literature we will never see because so many people think that they’re no good because it’s not perfect out of the chute. You have no idea.