Monday, February 27, 2012

It's okay to write

Someone was just pointing out that perfectionism stifles writing and creativity.

I hadn't really thought about it that way, but I think that years ago, between that and a kind of fear of exposure or being called out as being substandard in various ways, it made it almost impossible for me to write.

I loved to read when I was young. To be a writer was the highest goal I could think of. But I didn't really consider it. I "believed" I wasn't capable. But in 10th grade, my English teacher recognized my ability and tried to get me on the school newspaper. But I came up with reasons not to out of fear and a belief I was unworthy, incapable, or just too stupid. See, I had a step-father who told me that on a regular basis, "You're stupid." he would say when I was frustrating him. So I believed him. I don't believe him anymore.

When I started college, my first English comp teacher told me that of anyone in our class, I had to be a writer. He said that I had a skill and passion for it whether I knew it or not. He could see it in my class assignments. He had said that I had an energy that was undeniable; I had ideas that jumped off the page. I remember the lighthearted gleam in his eye, the energy he had for me to go on writing.

But I told him that I knew I didn't have a good, conscious comprehension of the rules of grammar. He smiled knowingly at me and said, "Look, just write, don't worry about all the mechanics and peripheral things; just write. Then go back and worry about all that later."

Once I heard that from someone I respected, that it was okay to throw caution to the wind, and just write, I tried it. It felt like dipping into a cold lake, naked at first, but after a while, the waters began to warm (or I to it) and it got easier, and easier. That stage lasted for me for a few years. But it allowed me permission to continue with the practice of writing, for it to happen more frequently; and more importantly perhaps, for it to happen more enjoyably. Until and so that eventually, the quality of what I wrote began to increase.

If not for that one English teacher giving me permission to write horrible prose, I may never have gotten past that initial fear of not being perfect. The rest really just took practice-- and listening productively to criticism.

He made it clear to me that it wasn't that hard. If I just did that, "listened", I would get better. He took the fear of writing, almost completely away for me, so that I could simply enjoy doing it. I didn't have to be perfect. I could just enjoy myself; and of course, try to become better over time. No matter how long it took. Because the other element in being a writer is, perseverance.

The fear of outwardly being perceived by others in a negative light, took a different kind of practice to overcome. I don't think it was so much growing a thicker skin as it was learning to accept people's criticisms. To recognize that criticism was a tool, something to divert from my feelings and instead over to making changes during rewrites. Then incorporating those learned components into future writings. One should also be aware and recognized that some criticism should be thoroughly discarded.

It is important to learn to recognize useful criticism as useless criticism. Some people are either mean spirited, or are fools and simply don't know what they are talking about. They are certainly out there and sometimes they can be emotionally close to you. They either have standards far higher for you than are useful to you; they want you to fail; they simply believe you will fail; or THEY fear that you will let THEM down. Because as we all know, with those types of people, it's all about them, right? Just ignore them. Move on. Instead zero in on those who are useful to you, to move your writing along, onward and upward

Criticism isn't about your feelings. It's about using comments on your writings as a tool. Use that tool to forge your current and next writings into a far better piece of art, or production. The trouble is, like in learning to ride a bike, it's scary, sometimes painful; but if you keep at it, you will get through it. Every professional writer, or rider, has had to go through that painful period.

They just had to learn how to make it through to where they finally ended up. To turn things around to where they buoyed themselves up and carried them forward, instead of impeding their progress, which can be all to easy to let happen.

Perhaps most people, most of the time, give up. Since most people do not seem to continue on after initially being shot down; and we're almost all shot down by someone in the beginning, This is especially true for writers, artists and musicians. Sometimes we get stuck in that first stage of fear and pain. Sometimes, we deny ourselves our own greatness.

Of all those people who will tell you that you can't, don't be one of those who believe them. There are enough people out there already who will tell you that you can't. Can't make it, can't do it, that you can't be what you want to be.

At this point, let me say that I've finished editing my new book, Anthology of Evil and we are working on the cover art. It should be out soon. Very quickly after that will be a second book which has an interesting connection to the first. I have recently gotten my first work up as an epublication, on Amazon and Smashwords.
Cover image for "Simon's Beautiful Thought"
It's been a long time from my first short story in 10th grade to now with this short story "Simon's Beautiful Thought" and it is a very rewarding time for me. I'm not even quite sure how I got to this point, except to say that it took a lot of hard work and immersing myself in what I love to do.

For yourself, if you wish to write, or anything you think you would love to do, just remember that it's okay. Work through that first stage and work hard to make it be as short a period as possible. And don't forget that the more you ride that bike, the faster you pass that painful and scary training period.

So-- write. Do you Art.


  1. I've set a goal for myself based upon Ray Bradbury's experience: 1,000 words per day. I've maintained that goal since the new year. It's changed me; for the better. I have some more self-assurance and confidence. Perhaps it's only a degree more, but, it's more. Bradbury recommends we "Relax. Don't think. Work."
    My experience has been similar to yours. I didn't really believe I could be a writer. But, I've determined I am and affirm it to friends and family. I feel good about my revelation. I wish I would have taken it seriously much sooner, instead of waiting until 37. I've got many, many journals and scraps of paper with my writing, but I really want to be a "genuine writer" for myself.
    I like your site. I just found it and read this entry only today.

  2. Thanks for the interesting comment. Happy to have you here. Great quote on one of my favorite writers and idols. Ah to one day be a Bradbury, huh? I wish you the best. I think you already have the right idea. If ONLY we could have started things younger. :)