(image found here)
Looking back on when I began writing and what I wish I had known, just one thing comes to mind: that it was okay to make mistakes.
Like I’ve said earlier on this blog, I was raised among avid writers and readers. My father, my aunt, my 2nd cousin, my grandmother, my great aunts, they are all very skilled and published authors. I grew up surrounded by people who constantly consumed and produced literature. Because of this, I quickly learned how to read and began devouring book after book. Attempting to write was just a part of the natural course. My family encouraged my creative efforts, always supplying praise and support with gentle instruction.
Unfortunately, I was a very self-conscious child. Every time my grandma put her red pen to my latest draft, I cringed, embarrassed and ashamed. At every mistake I thought, I should have known that. Why did I make such stupid mistakes?
So I self-imposed an unrealistically harsh standard for my writing very early on. If something didn’t meet my expectations, I trashed it. For many years, I wrote and compared and shredded most of my work. Slowly, my frustration and embarrassment manifested in my writing process.
I stopped showing anyone my works-in-progress. I gave finished products only – and a very specific selection of those. If anyone walked by while I was writing, I thought they might be able to see what I had written, and made it a habit to slouch over my paper and block the motion of my hand with my other arm, while checking on the people around me – to make sure they weren’t reading my work. That became exhausting and unproductive, so instead I wrote only if I was completely alone, without even the chance that I might be disturbed. Yet, even within this isolation, I continued to berate myself for my mistakes. At some point, I could no longer write freely. I stared at my paper or monitor composing and discarding and editing sentences in my head before daring to put them on the page.
I became so self-conscious of my failure that I almost stopped writing entirely.
During this time, I began writing poetry. I’m still not quite sure what it was about poetry, but I found I could write it without incurring the full weight of my criticism. Perhaps it was the inherent subjectivity of the medium, or the drastic structural differences between writing and poetry – whatever it was, poetry became the thread that kept me connected to writing. For the first time in nearly a decade, I was writing something I was proud of. It began as a tiny sliver of confidence that gradually grew strong enough to push me back into attempting creative writing.
I sometimes catch myself deleting things, even though I know they’re fine, allowing that glimmer of self-doubt back into control. As soon as that happens, I pause to collect myself, rewrite what I erased, then deliberately ignore it and move on to the next part. Sometimes, all it takes is the decision to move forward.
If any of you feel similarly about your writing, my advice is this: keep writing. It sounds simple, but I know it can be extraordinarily difficult. Don’t let that stop you. Write something, write anything. If a fragment of a scene is all you can do – that’s incredible. Write it, save it, and do it again.
What kinds of things do you struggle with in writing? Let us know in the comments!