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How dare I think I can do this
July 23, 2014 2:11 AM   Subscribe

I want to write. But I have all kinds of Big Dumb Issues around it. Help me stop sabotaging myself?

I'm in my mid-20s now. I was branded as A Good Writer in elementary school, and all throughout school I consistently performed well in any class which involved writing nonfiction, including any classes in which essays were required but especially English class. My writing was always commented on and singled out by teachers, and several of them encouraged me to pursue writing further. I studied journalism, and eventually went on to a nonprofit job which is 75% writing and editing of technical documents and promotional copy.

I rarely write for pleasure/myself. This is because I fear/'know' that I have nothing to say and anything I produce for myself will be garbage. I took a couple of fiction writing classes in high school and college and what I produced in those classes was pretty much shit. I never carve out any time to write because my perception is that there would be no point, I should have/would have started doing this 10 years ago if I was really "meant" to be a writer, and who the fuck am I even kidding with this. Sometimes I imagine being a successful writer and them I feel embarrassed, it seems about as realistic as imagining myself in the Olympics or NASA. I imagine myself mostly writing personal essays and sci-fi, and then I think "the world has more than enough shitty personal essays and what makes you think you have any original ideas for sci-fi anyways?"

I have all these ideas which exist in my head and nowhere else, and I feel so pathetic both for not having the courage to write them down AND for having the audacity to think I SHOULD write them down, if that makes any sense.

I have been paid for my writing occasionally- a few freelance journalism articles, dabbling in erotica self-publishing, and stuff like Textbroker where you write copy. Since none of these things is a passion project for me, and since they're allowed to not be brilliant, it's a little easier to do them. (I still don't actively carve out time to do this stuff, though.) Similarly, I am pretty good at the writing aspects of my job. Sometimes I tell myself that that's good enough.

Surprise surprise, there is also a personal/family aspect to all this, in that my father is a retired editor who never got anything significant of his own published and who has one or two incomplete novels lying around. When we talk, he always asks if I've written anything lately. I think he wants me to succeed where he sees himself as having failed. Hello pressure.

I don't know what the hell to do about any of this. I feel like it's too late and I should just give up on this idea entirely; but then I feel like I'm wallowing in self-pity so I don't have to actually try; but then I think if I REALLY wanted to be a writer I already would be, because "writers write" as they say, so if I haven't been doing it all along then there's no point in trying at this stage.

Snap me out of this? I feel like such a fucking idiot. How can I stop with all of this and actually... just try to do this? I feel like I've been "trying to try" for years and years and making no progress at all.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
Stop labelling yourself.

Take all the pressure out of Writing. Write whatever you feel like *whenever* you feel like, even if it's a busted sci fi poem about chick lit that no one will ever read. In fact, forget the reader. Entirely.

What do actually like writing? What do you like to *hear* being read/said?


I was in your exact shoes ages ago. This frustration has nothing to do with talent, ability, etc. You have ideas - brill!

The problem is that you don't have the writing outlet that sings to you, yet. Take an idea and put it into song lyrics. Now move it into a short story. Now move it into a one-act play. Keep moving your idea again and again until it finds a home. Forget consistency, forget 'building an audience' or a 'body of work'. You can't do any of that without finding out where your writing is supposed to go.

The downside of this is that you might have to let go of the culturally-ingrained idea that 'writer = novelist', can you do that? Not many can. A writer writes stories, whatever forms they may take.

So don't lock yourself into a 100K word tome and give up on writing, just because you're using the wrong outlet.

People wanted me to be a poet. They gave me awards and money and all sorts of good stuff. But I was so fucking miserable! Now, I write science fiction short stories and am happy. And the gongs and awards still follow, only I'm actually happy.

It's not that you can't be a writer. It's just that you might be writing in the wrong form.

Never, ever give up.
posted by Chorus at 2:46 AM on July 23 [9 favorites]


You sound like you're carrying too much guilt to enjoy the process of writing right now.

Why are you so hung up on the idea of "having been writing for the past 10 years" or so? William Gibson didn't really start writing sci-fi seriously until he was 29. And then he published Neuromancer when he was 36. And there are plenty of sci-fi writers who had way later starts.

Seriously, it's all about just having finished products, not about being a young successful writer or anything. If you have brilliant ideas and it seems fun to write about it, write it. Don't even think about its "worth". Just focus on having fun, because it's too much of a time-consuming underpaid creative process to partake in without having fun in the process! Having fun with your work is one of the few things in your control, so make sure you do that!

And like Chorus says, don't get so hung up on novel writing. Try poetry slams, haikus in another language, fake conspiracy theory journal logs, guilty pleasure fanfiction... I dunno, anything! Part of the creative process is fearless experimenting, because you may become surprised by what you end up enjoying or mastering.

I have a similar experience, and felt guilty for not having published any sci-fi in the past two years despite my submissions. I felt even more guilty ever since I started hanging out with prolific authors who really had their shit together. But then eventually I realized that people *don't* care for the most part whether I am a writer or just some not-published person they hang around with. We still have the same passions and we're still in the same scenes, so whatever.

I also used to spend a lot of my spare time writing stories that went nowhere... because I wasn't really that passionate about them, I just felt *guilty* and wanted more original stories completed. A few months ago, I questioned myself. "Why am I starting more stories when I'm not that interested in them, and I have all these other real life adventurous to go on and several big real life tasks to deal with?" So I said goodbye to the writing impulse, and have had more time to deal what's important *to me* ever since.

tl;dr 1. If you want to write - find the "play" in writing, experiment, and have fun.
2. If you don't want to write - then be honest with yourself, don't force yourself to write, and save yourself time!

If the conversations with your dad is a trigger, maybe you can just tell him "I'm not interested in writing. I have other plans," to change the narrative, or just tell him to stop asking you.

You're still a valuable, interesting, and creative person regardless of whether you use what skills you have or not. Okay? You are more than your output.
posted by Hawk V at 3:00 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]


I have been paid for my writing occasionally- a few freelance journalism articles, dabbling in erotica self-publishing, and stuff like Textbroker where you write copy.

You are a writer. You have a writing portfolio and you have finished pieces in them. You just haven't mentioned publishing personal essays or sci-fi.

If a super serious personal essay sounds scary, why not start with an amusing personal essay instead? Or if that sounds still scary to you, what about writing a blog-type post that *you* wouldn't take seriously? Keep lowering the bar until it seems "safe" and "not-serious" enough and break the ice. Heck, I'd actually like to read about your experience with erotica self-publishing.
posted by Hawk V at 3:09 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


There is not a separate category of people who are 'writers' or 'meant to be writers' any more than there's a separate category of people who are meteorologists or bus drivers. I think you might need to take some of the mystique out of 'being a writer,' because being a writer is a big, scary commitment. You can't decide to be the next David Foster Wallace or Charles Stross; you can decide to write 500 words on something that interests you.

"The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron is about half great and half complete bull, but if you can get it out of the library and just stop when you reach the chapter about money, I would recommend that. It talks a lot about the ways in which creativity can get blocked because it feels too high-pressure, it feels too audacious to say that anyone would care what you have to say, it feels too egotistical. All that is just a construct.

Also "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott addresses a lot of these issues in a helpful way.

I know a lot of writers who refer to the Buddhist idea, "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." Writing is not the thing you do to get praise or respect or to prove anything to the world; writing is just the daily chore in front of you, that you do because you've decided to make a commitment to it, that you choose to believe will help you grow in some small way even if no one else ever sees it.
posted by Jeanne at 3:14 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]


You are way too young to be caught up in that whole "it's too late" trap. Leave that kind of self-defeating misery to 45-year-olds with kids and a mortgage. You are just starting your adulthood, and you should be having a lot more fun right now.

I assume you've published your erotica under a pseudonym? Publish a lot more of it. You can make some money selling your stuff as eBooks, and you'll get some excellent practice telling stories. You can even combine your passions, and write sci-fi erotica. In my opinion, this world sorely needs more smut set in outer space!

Don't worry about getting famous, or not getting famous. Just start writing. Use your smut to get past your angst and have some fun.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:17 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


This may be out of line but I'd question why you want to do this at all?

Writing as a process is just a means to an end - ie to share a story that you want to tell. If you don't have concrete things you want to express via this particular (pretty narrow) medium I'd ask what is it about being 'a writer' that appeals to you so much?

I'm not saying this to put you off, just that I've seen many people struggle with the notion that they've failed to live up to the idea of themselves that was formed when they knew very little about the world and their sense of self within it. You absolutely do not have to write fiction in order to 'justify' your early promise, any more than you have to become a professional basketball player because you enjoyed shooting hoops well as a kid, yet this particular aspiration seems to dog people needlessly for their entire lives.

I say give your self permission not to write, or worry about writing, for an extended period of time. Just toss it over your shoulder and focus on stuff you actually enjoy doing.

If, after a given time, you genuinely get the urge to tell a story, just follow the excellent advice above.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:37 AM on July 23 [6 favorites]


Except, stories (songs, paintings, whatever) don't just plop into people's heads. The ideas themselves build on each other and transform over time. Same for developing a personal voice. It's true, I think, that the core of it's always there, but refining it, learning to trust it with your experiments, and to live with the discomfort of risk, to have faith in your observations and mind -- all of that is only facilitated by experiment. And, ambition, if anyone's going to be honest. If you want to write/become a writer, don't wait for a story.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:18 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


I had early promise as a writer, and then my life intervened and now I am in my 40s and I'm an editor instead. I'm just getting back to writing some. It is so much more fun now that I am not a writer with early promise but bordering on dried up old hag. Seriously. Although I suspect this is one of those things you have to live to get.

With that in mind:

Write 30 min a day, whatever it is (not counting comments & twitter).

Find what excites you/makes you obsess in the world & people around you.

If/when they intersect, that will be The Work.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:27 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


I've had a lot of frustrations with writing over the years, too. After early promise, got caught up in making a living - some of it also through journalism, which I reckon has to be some of the most soul-destroying stuff to write if you don't get to do proper stories and are stuck doing all the lifestyle filler crap. I tried different genres, styles, etc. It was all frustration when it came to actually doing something with what I produced. Increasingly it seemed that just doing it for the pleasure of it was no longer sufficient, it had to result in something published or somehow out there in the world. And that wasn't happening.

So I stopped. I stopped defining myself as a writer, or a wanna-be writer, or anything to do with it. I started doing other things creatively, things that are closer to craft than art. It was reassuring to be able to see my skill measurably increase at these things. A while ago I did a comic, which was somehow easier because I didn't expect my writing or my art to be any good. I was just doing it because I wanted to, and it was kind of interesting and fun to play with it.

And then a month or so ago I went to a zine fair. Wandering around and seeing so many people doing things with words and pictures and art or not art; badly-photocopied diatribes next to lovingly hand-crafted creations that were as much paper sculpture. People incorporating their obsessions, their ramblings, their bizarre sense of humour. Their sense of fun, of play. It was amazing and inspiring! Some of it was crap, sure; but some of what I think was crap was probably awesome to someone else and vice versa. The other amazing part about it is that it doesn't take much to do - you are in charge of what to write and reproducing it and distributing it to zine shops/bookshops etc. You don't have to have your manuscript plucked out of a slush pile. You don't have to have a literary agent, or an editor, or be paid by the word. Just do whatever you want and someone somewhere will like it. I don't think anyone anywhere makes a living out of creating zines but so what?

Anyway, I started to think how I can incorporate my craft into a zine type thing, with the freedom that there were really no rules. And it was amazing that I came up with an idea which is simultaneously completely non-traditional and yet totally structured. Creativity within limits! Who knew how freeing that could be? And I got that rush of enthusiasm and joy and FLOW that comes when you are making something, creating something. I thought it was gone forever, and turns out it wasn't! Which isn't to say I didn't have problems, I've had heaps. But no pressure, which meant I could take my time about finding solutions.

So now I have a weird origami zine and my next task is to figure out how to make more of them (hand-produce or machine-produce?) and price them and get them in a shop. And then see what comes next. And the whole thing is just vastly more enjoyable than I thought it would ever be. Oddly, I haven't started thinking of myself as a writer again. I just made this cool thing.

So my advice is pretty much what a lot of people above have said:
- figure out what's holding you back and try something different. Could be a different genre, form, field, whatever. If, like me, you're a bit hung-up on the whole publishing machine, don't be! It's a brave new world, you don't have to fit into the mould.
- don't pressure yourself too much (you don't have to be a prize-winning author) but don't let yourself off the hook either (you do need to write something ever if it's going to work).
- maybe being a writer is not the thing for you. Also, try not being a writer. Try letting go of that completely. Just do something amazing and creative that makes you lose sleep and babble inanely at your friends because you are so excited about it. If this happens to involve writing, cool. If not, that's also cool.

Good luck!
posted by Athanassiel at 5:07 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]


Oh, please read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Like right now. You can totally do this.
posted by caoimhe at 5:18 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]


I want to write.

Then write. And expose it to readers so you can see if they like it. Get feedback.

The world is full of ways to publish yourself these days, so try them all at once. Use Twitter for your one-liners or your ultra-short fiction, use Facebook to try your short commentary on other people's stuff, use blogging for longer stuff, etc. Send your pieces to online publications just to see what happens and maybe to make friends. And, of course, you have to join a writing class or two or three to get feedback.

Fail a lot. Be humiliated. Quit and then eventually start again. Change your name and move town. Stuff like that.

Just make sure you get lots of feedback.
posted by pracowity at 5:21 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


I used to study classical piano seriously.. my whole identity was tied up in it. And while in itself, it's a very fulfilling practice, I really did not have a strong sense of self in the outside world. I spent very little time making friends, trying new things, listening to other types of music. I pigeon-holed myself-- I was unhappy-- and I had very little confidence. My life became better when I gave myself permission not to be studying all the time and allowed myself to try other things I had been interested in for a while. As well as letting myself relax and spend time with other people instead of alone (which makes a huge difference).

All this is to say that, if you don't want your identity tied to writing, it doesn't have to be. You can be a writing- appreciator who has good taste, who also travels, plays soccer, goes to the movies, whatever.
posted by winterportage at 6:03 AM on July 23


In addition to Bird by Bird I recommend Natalie Goldberg's books Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind. The first was an assigned text in my high school composition class, informally titled, "Shut up and write!"

Related to some of your other angst, I've found it enormously freeing to start thinking about What I Do and What I Like to Do and What I Want to Do and stop thinking about Who I Am and What It All Means.
posted by mskyle at 6:10 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Have you ever defined "this" for yourself?

You sound like you feel you have failed to do this, whatever this is, even though you have been paid for your writing. Can you sit down and define this clearly. For example, would you feel you had succeeded only if you were supporting yourself with a comfortably middle class income through your writing? Or would you consider yourself to have succeeded if you were writing one fairly short book , say 60,000 words every two years and e-publishing, regardless of sales? If you can define precisely what doing this means you will have a better idea if it is a realistic goal and be able to come up with sub-goals towards achieving it.

It may be that you wouldn't be satisfied until you had Stephen King's career, or May Angelou's career. If there's a good chance that if you will feel like a failure unless you get the Pulitzer Prize for writing, that this is one of those expectations that you can't possibly live up to.

Since you have described a fair bit of output I think we can safely assume that you enjoy the process enough and have the discipline enough to sit down and write. The problem seems to be that you are not meeting a metric that is too nebulous to meet. It's possible that no matter how prolific and well paid and respected an author you became you would still not be able to fulfill your father's dream.

I suggest that you go to your father and ask him if he will let you read his unfinished novels and see if you can get him to go back to writing by being his editor and fan. Plenty of people take up serious writing after they retire. It's not exactly a physically taxing occupation. It may be easier to meet the goal of getting The Novel published if you go back to the original novels that were the basis of this dream. It would also hopefully clarify for you how much of this is something you want and how much of this is something your father wants.

The other thing I would suggest is that if what you are producing is dreadful, you need more practice. They say every artist has 10,000 bad drawings in them and the way to become an artist is to buckle down and produce those 10,000 bad drawings in a short a time as possible. I suggest that you plan to spend the next ten years writing bad sci fiction and bad personal essays. The goal is not to write good fiction. The goal is to write better bad fiction. So when you look at your writing with a critical eye don't compare it to what you think you could ultimately be capable of writing, but to what you wrote last month and last year.

And finally, consider that sub-standard writing has enflamed more hearts and inspired more people than good writing has. Work that is critically acclaimed as lofty and deep - literary fiction is often left only to the erudite and brilliant. The rest of us draw our dreams from fiction that doesn't tax and exhaust us. It's important not to try too hard or you end up being obscure and inaccessible.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:31 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure why you think mid-twenties is too late for a writer. It's pretty common for writers to do their best work in their 40s. For example, a survey by a children's literature blog found that 43% of the best books for children were written by people in their forties.

Toni Morrison didn't start writing fiction until her thirties, and her first novel was published when she was 39. If you start writing today, you will have a roughly decade-long head start on her.

That said, I am slightly hesitant to encourage you to plunge into writing, because it is clear from your question that your identity and self-worth are tied up in this issue in very complicated ways.

If you write stories or novels or articles and send them out to editors and agents, you will get rejected, over and over again. Every time you get a rejection, you will wonder: does this mean that your fears about having "nothing to say" and only being capable of "garbage" are true? Or does it mean that your story is groundbreaking and ahead of its time and the editor is an idiot? Or that the you and the editor are both reasonably intelligent human beings, but this particular good story just didn't happen to click with this particular good editor?

And the really tricky part is, you will never know the answer, because the rejection letters will all pretty much look the same.

So, before you do anything, take a deep breath and think about why you want to be a writer. If you want to be a writer because you enjoy the process of writing, that's a great reason. If you want to write because you think writing will help you understand yourself better (even if nobody else ever reads it), that, too, is great. But if you want to be a writer because you want validation, or you worry your dad is disappointed in you, or you think writers are somehow inherently superior beings, then I would (with the greatest respect) suggest that "How can I get myself to write?" might not be the question you should be asking yourself right now.

But if it is indeed the right question, here is my step-by-step guide:

1. Think about your long-term goals. Where do you want to be a decade from now? Give yourself an easy goal (eg, "To have completed a crappy novel"), an achievable but more challenging goal (eg, "To have completed a novel I'm proud of"), and a stretch goal (eg, "to have completed a novel that I personally feel is publishable, and to have sent it out to 10 agents and 5 publishers.") I would strongly encourage you to stick to goals that are entirely within your control. Stay away from goals like "Get an agent" or "Find somebody to publish my novel," because the success or failure of those goals depends on the choices of total strangers.

2. Now think about medium-term goals. To achieve that 10-year plan, where do you need to be each year along the way?

3. Now think about immediate goals. To achieve this year's medium-term goal, what do you need to do every day from now on? Your goal might have to do with output-- EG, to write 100 words a day. Or it might have to do with input -- EG, to spend 20 minutes a day writing. Either way, it should be:
* Objective. ("Write 100 words" is objective. "Write 100 well-written words" is not.)
* Again, within your control.

4. Try for a month or so to stick to your daily goal. At the end of the month, evaluate your success. Did your daily goals feel too easy? Too hard? Just right? Should you switch from an output-related goal to an input-related goal, or vice versa? Make adjustments as needed.
posted by yankeefog at 6:57 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


Personally I think the most important thing is that you know you want to write. We're all struggling with the "how" and "why" and "what."

As an aspiring playwright, I'm learning that it's OK that I have "nothing to say," because that doesn't necessarily mean I'll have nothing to say forever. I'm learning that I don't have to fear my inability to come up with anything right now, because it's simply part of the process of finding my voice, a process the playwright Jose Rivera described as "a private, lonely, inexact, painful, slow and frustrating voyage."

It helps me to think of writing as a labor of love, a never-ending journey to self-discovery, as opposed to something I will either succeed or fail at.

Best of luck.
posted by tackypink at 7:03 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


I haven't read all the other responses here so I might be traveling with the pack, but it sort of seems that you're conflating being a writer with being published in some way. Writing is a form of expression the same way music or art (whether that be visual, installations, textile work) are. Some people find fulfillment in mainstream work that is more or less publishable if the material got into the right hands. Other people feel compelled to tell other kinds of stories. Decide what you want out of this pursuit.

The most important part of this venture is to just get over the hump and force yourself to write something every day. Set a word goal and sit down and just find where the words take you. Just like quitting smoking or working out, you have to get over the inertia of not doing it first, then you can figure out more or less what you want out of the experience.
posted by syncope at 7:08 AM on July 23


Many of my favorite writers didn't start producing really good work until their mid-30s or 40s, and in general they seem to improve as they age. There's no shortcut for experience, and you might do well to give yourself some room to just live your life for a little while. Do you remember what you were like five years ago? You were basically a ridiculous wailing baby compared to now, right? Imagine yourself in another five years, or ten, how much more of a complete person you'll be, how much more you'll have to say.

Writing is like playing violin or breakdancing or fencing in that you need to practice a lot to get good at it, but it's unlike those things in that everything else you do and experience (and read!) in your life forms the raw material you have to work with. There are relatively few 11-year-olds producing great works of literature. Don't stop writing, but write primarily to strengthen those word-muscles. Don't worry about saying anything Original and Important and and have some goddamn fun with it. Rewrite a Wikipedia article as if it was the year 2114. Narrate one day in the life of a protozoan. Write a New York Times op-ed arguing for the annihilation of the Moon.
posted by theodolite at 7:16 AM on July 23


I run sometimes. I even run in races occasionally - half marathons, 10 milers, 10Ks, etc. But I have a hard time calling myself a runner. Meb Kefleghizi, Kara Goucher, Frank Shorter, Kathy Switzer - those are runners. I'm a chubby girl who puts on shorts occasionally and hobbles around the neighborhood at a 10 minute/mile pace when I'm in shape. Sometimes I think about putting on my shorts and sneakers and think, who am I kidding? My gut is hanging out, my arms are wider than some runners' legs, when it comes down to it, I am just a vain overweight girl trying to kill time in between cupcakes.

Then, 99% of the time, I put on the shorts and sneakers and run anyway. Because putting one foot in front of the other at a pace faster than walking, even if it's barely faster than walking, makes me a runner. The same way that stringing together letters to form words and sentences makes you a writer.

Sometimes I catch myself saying, "I'm a runner" and I briefly panic, thinking that the person to whom I said that will ask me what my last race time was and scoff, and say that I'm not a "real runner." Then I think, to hell with anyone who would say that, I have a stack of used race bibs and a Ziploc bag filled with medals. I am a runner. You are a writer. Deal with it.
posted by kat518 at 8:18 AM on July 23 [9 favorites]


Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way offers a good 12-week programme for getting out of your head and onto the page.
posted by rpfields at 8:26 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Some random thoughts:

You've got lots of time to write - it's something that can be done by young people and old people. So there's no hurry. Lots of writers don't find their voice until their 30s or 40s.

Almost everybody who writes wishes they were more productive. You're not alone there.

Don't judge your writing too harshly. Every writer has notebooks or drawers or computer folders full of crap that they just don't show other people. They're only showing you their good stuff.

If you're putting stuff on a page, you're a writer.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 12:01 PM on July 23


I'm 44 and I've wanted to be a musician since my teens. Not as a career or even for money. I've tentatively taken stabs over the years but never seriously. And I've told myself almost exactly the same things as you - who do I think I am, it's going to suck, I'm never going to be as good as X, and so on.

I wish I could tell you I magically figured out how to get past it, but there is no magic trick. However, after noodling around on a synth for the past year I do have a solid collection of riffs and bits of melody that have potential. Yes, still a way to go, but a lot of groundwork has been laid and I'm proud of it. I know I need to move towards finishing a song no matter how hard that feels.

The only thing that changed is that I made the commitment to show up. I try to do it every day. I often fail. The voices of doubt and self-sabotage are still there. Often I play crap or tunes that "go nowhere" but I accept it as part of the process instead of beating myself up.

It gets easier to move on from all the self-doubt. But it's hard to power through it at the start.

I have read many books and essays about writing and the creative process in general. And I have trouble internalizing and believing them. But for some reason, this one really struck me - the biggest obstacle to creativity is attachment to outcome.

Also this gem from Adventure Time - sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.

All you can do is write. And then write some more. No worries about publishing, accomplishing something or anything else. Not now. Try to show up every day, but don't beat yourself up if you don't. It's not too late for me, and it's definitely not too late for you.

More practically, I highly recommend morning pages, from the aforementioned Artist's Way.
posted by O9scar at 1:46 PM on July 23 [2 favorites]


Find a local Shut Up and Write group on meetup.com and let the friendly peer pressure work its magic.
posted by wintersweet at 2:17 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]


I find the mind shift described by Elizabeth Gilbert in this TED talk to be enormously helpful.

Cameron has another book, The Right to Write, that focuses just on writing. Also: Lynda Barry: Write now! Right now!
posted by macinchik at 3:36 PM on July 24


Give up on being good.
I have been paid for my writing occasionally- a few freelance journalism articles, dabbling in erotica self-publishing, and stuff like Textbroker where you write copy. Since none of these things is a passion project for me, and since they're allowed to not be brilliant, it's a little easier to do them.
You know from your own experience that it's easier to write when your own expectations are low. Use that.

Two secrets:

1. You're not a good judge of the quality of your own work. Even when you've had time to get a little distance from your work, even once you've polished it, you may not know what will resonate with other people. I used to run a little indie record label. Some of the artists on my label were hugely critical of their own work, and some of the stuff I liked best was stuff they liked least. Consider the possibility that "good" is a little bit objective and a whole lot subjective, and at some point it has nothing to do with the work itself.

2. You never know when you'll actually get something really good, purely by accident, when you set out to write garbage. I write songs sometimes, and one of my very favorites is one I wrote when I thought "okay, I haven't written anything for literally years. I'm just going to write something - anything - so I can break through the block and move on to trying for something semi-decent after that." I was completely resigned (or committed) to writing something I would throw in a drawer and forget about. It turned out to be something I really, really like.

NanoWriMo and the Immersion Composition Society are two examples of what can come out of embracing the "write first, worry about good later" frame of mind.

So, snap yourself out of it:

Commit to writing 5000 words every day for a month.* They are not supposed to be good. They are just supposed to be words. At the end of the month, you can (and probably should) dial back your daily word count to something a little more sane, and go back over what you've written to see if there's anything that surprises you by actually being, accidentally, good.

* Note: 5000 words is a lot. Mefi's own John Scalzi, a terrific pro science fiction writer, aims for 2000; he's written about why that works for him and how that looks in practice . On the other hand, the post you wrote here was about 600 words, and you could crank out 10 of those without blinking, right?

There are two ways to get yourself writing more: a ridiculously easy goal, like 10 words a day - I actually have a daily goal of "write 50 words", which is so easy I know if I just start typing I will hit 50 words. The other is a ridiculously hard goal, like 5000 words a day, which is so extreme that you just start writing "okay I am completely out of things to write about so I'm just going to describe the contents of my desk starting at the top left, where there are three paper clips. Then a rubber band. Why is there a rubber band? I don't know and I don't care. And then there's my hard drive. Gosh there's a lot of stuff on the hard drive. And to the left of that is a tape dispenser. I never use that. Who uses tape anymore?" because you're just trying to hit 5000. The Immersion Composition Society folks aim to write and record 20 songs in a day, which is insane. Aiming for something insane really helps you get past the "it's got to be good" block, past the self-editing and self-doubt. There's no time for self-editing when you've got to crank out 20 songs or 5000 words.

Anyway, use whichever approach works for you: an easy goal like 50 words or a hyperambitious goal like 5000.



Finally: it's perfectly okay for you to not be a writer. If you don't enjoy it, I give you my permission to let it go. You get one life. In my opinion, spending that life beating yourself up over not being The Greatest Writer the World Has Ever Known is not good. I am not A Writer, but I enjoy writing for myself (even when 98% of it is garbage). I have ended up with a few things that have made me very happy, I have written one or two things that have really moved some other people, and writing has given me a door into thoughts and feelings I wouldn't have found otherwise.

For those reasons, I hope you will try a month of writing massive amounts of complete garbage. You never know what happy accidents might turn up.
posted by kristi at 1:31 PM on July 25 [3 favorites]


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