Writing is a form of self discovery. Having a blog is a form of self discovery. I was sorting my site’s categories the other week, and in the middle of doing so I realized that it was very much like filtering the things I should be focusing on in my life. As I drafted my About section, I struggled to find the perfect words to introduce myself. Until I thought, well wtf, perhaps there are no perfect words – at least right now. And that’s okay.
You have to write a lot of shitty things to come up with something remotely interesting later. And that is not even certain. It’s a chase for a perhaps.
I chanced upon this article in The Atlantic entitled My 150 Writing Mentors and Me. It’s written by this guy, Joe Fassler, who interviewed 150 authors in the past five years. Lots of learnings, obviously. But amongst them, I find this most useful:
If you’re willing to lower your expectations, to temporarily mute your inner critic, then incremental progress is always possible… Above all else, writers are people who allow themselves the freedom to suck—unrepentantly, happily, even. They’ve learned through hard experience that out of failure comes something better. And that the only catastrophe, really, is the refusal to keep trying.
The freedom to suck. Most of the time we think too much about what other people will say, or worse, what our inner critic would say. And we end up in a state of not doing. The end result of which is nothing.
That’s the killer: that gap between intention and output. You don’t have to be an artist to understand this. Most people wake up in the morning fully intending to be their ideal selves. To finally get themselves to the gym. To be a better student, a better parent, a better citizen, a better friend. That’s why it’s so painful to fail, as inevitably happens: It hurts to feel the distance growing between who you are and what you wish to be.
In the creative arts, there’s a name for the refusal to face that pain: writer’s block. Contrary to popular wisdom, being “blocked” is not about running out of things to say. Instead, it’s succumbing to the unrealistic expectation that your work must Be Great Now. It’s a decision to remain silent rather than speak and maybe stumble. It’s the determination to avoid failure, which is a great way to ensure that the humbling work of getting better will never begin.
Doesn’t that also apply in other aspects of life? In our relationships, careers, lifestyles – in every single thing that we’d like to learn to do?