I’ve been thinking a lot about the things that hold us back most as writers and creative people. We tend to get stuck in our heads, alone in small rooms, in coffee shops, or libraries - ear buds in our ears, trying to drown out the noise while we attempt to create something that resonates with the human condition. Almost all of us are wondering if we’re good enough.
What or who determines your worth as a writer? Is it getting picked up by an agent, selling your self-published book on Amazon, or is it having a dozen shelved manuscripts in your desk drawer?
As I struggle with deciding whether or not it’s more important for me to seek industry validation by going the traditional publishing route, or getting my work out there sooner by self-publishing, I’ve butted up headlong into the old fears that have always threatened to hold me back.
I wish that my teachers, my parents, my college professors hadn’t instilled in me this line of thinking that writing was something I was made to do - that it was some sort of gift. Even though they meant well, the problem with calling an aptitude a gift is that these so-called gifts can burden you. They make you think that any time not spent in the pursuit of attaining the goals that were imagined for you by others is time you’ve wasted. I remember lying in our bed shortly after my husband and I were married and confessing that if I never finished a novel and got it published, I would have wasted the gift I was given. How silly that sounds now - how vain!
That was just seven years ago, but I’ve grown up a lot in that time. I’ve recognized that living is where the stories are made, and that writing about them is just the icing on the proverbial cake. During the time I wasn’t writing, I created a career for myself in photography - a form of storytelling as potent as the written word, and just as gratifying.
And now, finally, I’ve finished a book, and that in itself has been validating, whether or not anyone else ever thinks it was worth doing. I take myself much less seriously these days, and the fear of failure doesn’t haunt me like it once did. The thing with putting yourself under so much pressure to be successful as an artist, no matter what your medium, is that you can tend to get caught up in the inertia of fear:
“What if I never get published? What if everyone hates this? What if I…” And it goes on, until you stop writing, like I did for years, because being anything less than great wasn’t ever allowed or imagined.
Here’s the thing about writing: You don’t have to do it all the time, or by the time you’re thirty. You don’t have to get published. You don’t have to do it at all.
It’s when I finally let go of the feeling of failure - of the feeling that I had to create something profound, deep, and meaningful, that I was able to write the book of my heart. And while I’m thankful for all of those people who told me I could be a writer, and that writing was what I was meant to do, I’m doing this one for me. I’m not afraid anymore.