How I Ruin The Things That Matter Most To Me
There’s a twisted cosmic joke in effect in my life. It goes something like this: I narrow in on something I’m passionate about, I get really excited about it, I throw myself into it for a few weeks or months, and then I start to hate it. And even though a part of me knows that deep down I am still passionate about that thing, I just as rapidly pull the plug on it.
Ever done this?
I have far more times than I care to admit over the course of my life, especially with various career interests. After the initial excitement and outpouring of 120% of myself into whatever interest it was at the time, I would suddenly start to feel overwhelmed and eventually see that I wasn’t going to be able to sustain the interest much longer. I would all too soon settle for doing something different, something I was not all that excited about but that worked for me on some level, paid the bills and kept me sustained.
That thing, I would stick with for quite a while. Go figure.
This pattern has played out most frequently with my writing aspiration, which has also been my longest running passion. I first discovered I enjoyed writing when I wrote and “illustrated” a book at age eight and showed it to my friends, who seemed impressed.
I decided to become a writer several times at different junctures in my life. I would do it for a few days, weeks or months. In the beginning it was always bliss. But I never sustained it longer than six months, because eventually it was hell.
The first time I got “serious” about writing was as a pre-teen. I decided I was going to write a novel. I started writing the first chapter and was blown away by how much fun it was. I got lost in my plot and characters. I knew this was what I wanted to do, this was what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I never made it past chapter 3. It had been fun until the moment I decided writing was what I was going to do with my life and I told my parents. They were supportive, of course. But now, there was pressure. There was the promise of a readership. There was the need to say it well. Yes, I felt this strongly even at age 12!
And then I read my draft and it didn’t sound like the published works I loved to read. Who would want to read this?
If only I could time travel back to 1987 and talk to the 12-year-old me the split second right after she deemed her manuscript unworthy right before she chucked it into the wastebasket. Here’s the conversation I imagine I would have with her:
“Hi, young Christy. It’s me. You’re making a big mistake if you trash this manuscript. This isn’t just about tossing a few pages of your writing into the garbage. If you do this, you’ll be setting a precedent. You’ll be paving the road to throw out many more manuscripts down the road, all because ‘they’re not good enough.’ How do I know? Because, I’m your future self, and I’ve seen it — err — done it, first hand many times. Tell me this: did you enjoy writing those chapters of your novel?”
— Um… yeah, a lot. At first.
“I know you did, because I was there. I am you. It was fantastic. We were so alive while you wrote that. So when did it stop being fun?”
— I think it was when I started thinking about how it sounded. I wanted Mom and Dad and anyone else who read it to like it. But when I read it back, I didn’t even like how it sounded. So I started trying to make it sound better. I started rewriting it over and over. It got to be a pain. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t make it sound like I wanted it to sound. And then it just stopped being fun.
“Why would Mom and Dad be into a book about a 12 year old girl who gets sucked into a dumpster? They’re adults, and you’re barely a teenager. Why is it important that they like it?”
— I guess you’re right. But I don’t even like how it sounds. It sounds stupid. It doesn’t sound like the books I like to read.
“Fair enough. But again, you’re 12. Cut yourself some slack. How many people do you think start out good at anything?”
— Yeah, you’re probably right again. But I don’t care. I still want to be good.
“Of course you do. Everyone wants to be good. But you don’t get good at anything just by wanting it. You get good at it by doing it often. Would you rather have to start the practice of getting good at writing at age 12 or at age 42? Because guess what? I’m you exactly 30 years from now. And I’ve been chucking incomplete manuscripts out my whole life, instead of finishing them, because I decide they’re not good enough. I’ve never given myself a chance to keep writing long enough to get good.”
— I can’t believe I’m going to be 42 years old. Barf!
“Crazy, right? But that’s besides the point, Christy. It’s not being 42 that sucks. What sucks is realizing that we could have spent the past 30 years getting better at something that we just didn’t do enough to have the chance to get better at.”
— Yeah, that does suck.
“And what sucks even more is that we love writing, but, I’ve written very little. I’ve always let “it’s not good enough” have the upper hand. And it has robbed me of a passion we really enjoy. The thing is, who cares if it ever turns out good? We enjoy doing it. Why have I deprived us of something we love doing for so long, just because it might not be good enough? Wasn’t the fun of doing it enough?”
— Uh huh. It was a lot of fun until I started trying to make it good.
“Bingo. That’s the key, right there. That’s what it all hangs on. Here’s what I need you to remember, Christy, because I promise this will make your life more rich and meaningful: Don’t write for other people. Don’t write even for yourself as an “audience.” Just write for yourself, the one who is writing. That’s the part that’s fun. Do the fun part. While you’re writing it don’t read over it and change it and try to make it better. At least not until you’re finished with your first draft.
“And do us both a favor and finish what you write. Let yourself enjoy every minute of writing from the beginning to the end of your manuscript. Then when it’s done, it’s up to you if you decide to read it at all. If you read it and hate it, it’s up to you if you want to chuck it or take a stab at making it better. If you read it and you like it, it’s up to you if you want to share it with anyone else or just keep it to yourself. But for the love of God, write, child! Write! Let yourself write. Give yourself the gift of not caring how it sounds, to you or to anyone else. You love to write, so no matter what, if you don’t stick with anything else in your life, at least stick with that.”
Sadly I can’t reclaim those lost years and retro-implement my advice to myself, because obviously I can’t turn back the hands of time and actually revisit my 12-year-old self.
No matter. Time is not actually linear anyway, and it doesn’t technically even exist. It’s all happening now. And now, I have an opportunity to do something I love, and to stick with it.
Thank you, dear reader, for reading to the end. But if you hadn’t, that would still be okay. And if what I wrote sounds stupid to you, that’s okay too. Because guess what? I totally, enjoyed writing it. Every word of it.