This weekend I caught up with a friend of mine who after several beers sheepishly confessed that he had always wanted to write a book. He had an idea for a plot that he had ever since he was young. He’d fleshed it out in his mind several times over the years and wrote down some of the basic scenes. When I asked him for more information about the storyline he admitted that he felt shy talking about it. In fact, he felt silly for even wanting to write a book. It made me think – why are we so ashamed to say that we are writing? If we take up a new sport or learn a language or musical instrument we don’t hesitate to tell our friends. Yet to admit to writing, not on your life! For this reason, most writing advice books begin with the sage advice to declare yourself a writer. Surely beginner music lessons don’t begin with the advice to declare yourself a musician as you pick up your instrument every day. So why does the simple act of arranging words inspire so much self-doubt and public angst?
I think it all comes down to fear.
We are scared we’ll fail.
We are scared we’ll be laughed at.
We are afraid we’ll be stuck in the endless cycle of procrastination and never actually finish our book.
We are afraid to be held accountable.
Writing a book is a very personal endeavor. We bleed our private thoughts onto the page to have them judged by others, yet it seems the harshest judgment comes from ourselves. My friend admitted that, like many writers, he was afraid his writing was terrible. I’ve noticed this recurrent theme from the authors we’ve interviewed, regardless of their level of experience. The difference with successful authors is that they find a way to push through self-doubt, while the rest of us continue to ask ourselves ‘who am I to think that I could write a book?’ Actually you are the perfect person to write that book. No one else sees the world as you do and no one can tell the story the same way as you.
Let’s give ourselves a break and stop taking writing so seriously. When I say this, I don’t mean stop dedicating time to writing or trying to improve, rather turn off your inner critic and forget about perfection. Not every word you write is for public consumption. As Stephen King advises ‘write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open’. Give yourself permission to write terribly. Give yourself permission to fail. With practice your writing will improve but it will never progress if you remain frozen under the pressure of perfection. Confidence grows with action. Start with short stories or daily journaling if you need to -whatever it takes to get in the habit of putting pen to paper and getting your stories out into the world. Let’s be proud about writing. It’s not some dirty secret to be hidden away. We are writing and it may turn out to be the worst thing ever written but that’s okay, it might also turn out to be the best.
Now get writing.