Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ever Feel Inadequate? Some Thoughts on Writing - and Living

A woman sent me an email recently telling me she has a "yearning" to write, but wonders if she can really sit down and write a book. She asked, "Did you ever wonder if you could really do it?"

The short answer is, "yes." Here's my longer response to her - and if you substitute the word "living" for "writing," my comments might be relevant to you even if you're not a writer:

Yearning and self-doubt are both essential elements in the process. The yearning propels you to the keyboard; the doubts cause you to stare stupidly at it. The yearning is necessary; the doubts are inevitable.

At some point, it's probably valuable to look more deeply at yourself and ask why you have doubts. Chances are, your answer will revolve around these two inadequacies: I'm not smart enough and I'm not good enough. (Apologies to Stuart Smalley)

The first one -- not smart enough -- is probably true. I don't have to look very far to find someone smarter than me. But I know I'm smarter than some people, too. I am who I am.

My mom, who was a third grade teacher, refused to tell me my IQ even though she knew. "You're above average," is all that she'd say. She explained that if she told me it was high, I'd coast through life and wouldn't try very hard; if she told me it was low, I'd give up and wouldn't try, either. She always used to say, "It's not the IQ, but the 'I will.'" Throughout her career she saw kids who were oblivious to their low IQ thrive because they worked hard and tried.

As for not good enough - that's true, too. But that doesn't mean that you can't improve. First you try, then you look critically at the result to see where you need improvement.

Writing [living] is a process. The more we do it, the more knowledgeable and skillful we become. WHATEVER you write won't be perfect, but instead of being paralyzed by fear of failure, put all that yearning and doubting into motion. As you try to do your best, your "best" will steadily get better.

Hope that helps.

Just a reminder: I'll be speaking and leading some writing workshops this Friday and Saturday (April 23 and 24) at the Writers' Institute at the University of Wisconsin - Madison

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