Cobwebs have grown where I once had a place on the Medium platform and a tiny following. No idea if anyone is still interested. Why would they be when I haven’t posted anything in…two years! Eeek! It’s not that I haven’t been writing, I have a folder full of drafts to prove I have, but I just haven’t been able to finish any of them. When I thought I was close to done, I’d spend more hours editing and changing the story to the point that the original idea was no longer visible.
This current story you’re reading was another ‘dust gatherer’, until now.
As often happens, a major life event will either kick you into:
a) giving up or b) action. There is no option c).
The event that changed everything boosted my motivation to write, was the loss of a loved one, someone with whom I had a prickly relationship, the kind where you never felt like you’re doing it right, doing it well enough, how it should be done etc. These super-high standards are great if you’re hoping to be an engineer, but not so helpful if you’re a writer or an artist. Yes, of course you want to be the best you can, but there’s a giant chasm between striving for your best and your perceived best.
My bad habit of endlessly editing my posts ad nauseam happens because I strive for my perceived best, according to another persons’s standard, one I could never achieve. This has left me waiting, hoping that a magical unicorn will tap me on the shoulder and instantly make me an excellent writer, someone who overnight, writes stupendously good stories.
The unicorn never showed up. Seems I had to work for my miracle.
Change requires work
I set about improving my skills by signing up for any ‘Be a Better Writer’ course I could find, I dumped tonnes of free downloads into my overloaded hard drive, and bought every ‘writing’ book I could find. It was a good start.
The unanimous vote on how to be a better writer was to write. I’d been doing that, it’s just that most of my writing was languishing in my ‘Drafts’ folder and not being published.
While my perfectionism was not helping me hit the publish button, there was another twisted belief that was interfering with my ability to put myself ‘out there’. It was both the need and fear to be seen in equal measure.
I’m lucky I no longer have to work in the relentlessly aggressive corporate world, being a freelancer has it’s benefits, but working alone for a long time can sometimes make you feel like you don’t exist. There’s nothing like the daily banter at the water cooler to remind you that you’re seen by another.
My problem is that I’m plagued not just by perfectionistic tendencies but also deep insecurity. I figured that having my work liked by others or accepted by a publication was the equivalent of the water cooler fix, with a little extra sweetness.
False sense of security
Security is something we all crave, but it’s a myth, especially in the arts. In his book Release the Bats, DBC Pierre states, “You can be insecure and be a writer. You can be unsuccessful and be a writer. You can be a bad person and be a writer.” He goes on to dispel the many myths about being a writer which helped me greatly, but reading advice and taking action are two different things.
I know I’m insecure but even I can delude myself. To fill this unconscious and deep-seated need, I developed the lofty ambition of having my work loved, accepted and published by online and print publications and even getting paid for my work. Talk about shooting for the stars…in another galaxy!
Here’s the slightly twisted thinking that was behind this ambitious goal.
I decided to hold off publishing too many stories here on Medium until I was a better writer, so a prospective editor would look at my work and only see great writing.
But here’s the twist. Without regularly writing and publishing my work, I’d never actually improve my craft, and never get over my fear of not being good enough and confident emough to publish my work.
Aiming too high was keeping me down. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have goals, we absolutely should, but, it’s good to keep them in check, not let them fly off into the stratosphere where they’ll surely escape if we don’t do a reality-check to hold them.
Self awareness is a wonderful bedfellow. I’ve seen the folly of my ways and with insight, I’ve made some important discoveries.
Here’s how I’m going to overcome my fears.
- Spend only 1 hour finishing each of the stories in my draft folder and publish immediately when done. If they’re past their use-by-date delete them. No more dust gatherers!
- Pick and stick to a day/month to publish my stories — create a regular publishing schedule. Nothing like a deadline to shift a draft into a finished story.
- Write down my goals on paper and then put the note away, only to be reviewed a year later. Helps keep the focus on the present — e.g. keep writing.
All the above points are important but for me, but item 3 is the key. I have to hold my ambitions in check, otherwise, my insecurities will prevent me from doing the very thing that I love doing, and that is writing.
Pierre says of writing, that it can be like “hauling you naked to a place where nobody can help you is how writing wrings out art. That the management of passion counts as much as the words, and that every new book should make its author a novice again.”
There it is in a nutshell. Without a unicorn, writing is hard work. Publishing leaves us feeling naked and managing our passion, our muse is as important as every word on the page or screen. This quote is also a great reminder that even published authors can feel like a novice each time they start a new project. The feelings of perfectionism and imposter syndrome never go away, we just learn to befriend and manage them.
Creativity requires courage
Great courage is required for emerging writers and artists. We rely so much on what other people think of our work, especially if we hope to be paid for what we do. If writing or some other creative pursuit is a soul calling, then we should listen and write the story or make the art. Whether it’s as a hobby or professionally, to ignore that inner voice is to lead to regret and often a simmering sadness that can sometimes fly under the radar.
If no one reads this post, if no one claps or ‘buys me a cup of coffee’, then I’m ok with that. It won’t matter if each published story is seen by another human or met with just the sound of crickets, because I‘ll be satisfied with having done the work and followed my muse. Unicorns not included.
If I don’t write, I won’t improve, if I don’t publish my work, I won’t develop courage and resilience and if I ignore my muse, I’ll feel sad and empty.
Having a lofty goal is fun, but enjoy the now, the learning, the mistakes which lead to improvement and the mega joy when someone finally sees you and your work.
The truth is, one day I won’t be here so before I ride away on that elusive magical unicorn, I’d rather spend my time writing at whatever level I’m at, and feeling the satisfaction of overcoming my fears. And who knows, I might help someone else with their writing struggles. What could be better than that?