Thoughts on Writing… and Creativity in General

Yesterday I made a 3-layer mousse that came out quite nice. Not perfect, but good enough that I confidently served it to everyone in my house. Smooth, with clear layers, not too sweet. Today, as I was rummaging the fridge for what to heat up for breakfast, I saw a large plate of leftovers from what I made yesterday. My folks didn’t finish it. Perhaps they had such a big dinner they couldn’t handle any more dessert. Or perhaps they just didn’t want to finish it because it wasn’t that good. And this was when I had what Oprah calls an “aha moment”: I didn’t feel bad. I didn’t take it personally. Their not eating it was not an attack against me; it was a statement of their personal taste, as well as feedback about what they thought was good and not good about what I made, which had nothing to do with me per se. My heart is intact and I still want to keep cooking and baking and experimenting in the kitchen.

When I show a piece of personal writing to someone, it’s like handing my heart over to them knowing they could take an ax and chop it into limp shreds. The mere thought of someone criticizing what I wrote or telling me my idea is stupid is devastating and terrifying. Good side of that is, it says I really care about writing. And if I really care about writing, then it probably means I AM a writer. I couldn’t care less if someone told me I am the world’s worst at drawing. It would only make me laugh and nod in agreement; I’m aware that drawing is not my art. Quite telling isn’t it? Our most vulnerable spots speak volumes about who we truly are.

And it’s not that I don’t care about my cooking, because I do, deeply. But I have done it long enough and often enough that I have gained a sort of foundational confidence from the countless experiments I have done. If nothing else, I am proud of the time and energy and effort I have put into teaching myself how to cook and bake. I do still get nervous serving what I have made to people, but I no longer make a failed attempt mean that I am a failure. It just means I failed… perhaps the recipe was never right to begin with, or maybe I overmixed the ingredients or put too much of this and too little of that. In any case, it does not say that I, as a human being, am a loser, that failure is in my DNA. It means I am brave for having tried and now that I made a mistake, I get to learn from that mistake and next time I try I have a better chance at doing it right.

I want that same mindset applied to my writing. I understand theoretically that perfection isn’t the goal, because first of all perfection doesn’t exist, second of all it’s a common writer’s quirk to want to edit our writing to death, to continue to find spots we could have phrased better even after our article has been approved of and published. That’s just the way it is. They key is to discern the fine line between editing and over-editing. Developing a sense of where that line is takes practice. And then once the writing is out there, the world can do with it whatever it wants, whether to criticize it, praise it, or ignore it. Whatever the response, none is as important as the fact that we did the work and we put it out there and in that process, we have expressed our truest, most authentic selves, and we have grown.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to self-expression. When we love, we are expressing ourselves. When we dance for the joy of it, we are expressing ourselves. When we do any work, whether it’s for pay or fulfillment or both, we’re telling the world what is important to us. When I write, I am expressing my thoughts, my feelings, my views, my priorities, who I am.

When self-expression is the bottom line, it doesn’t matter whether there are two readers, or a hundred, or none at all. The joy and growth and satisfaction that happen as a byproduct of self-expression, whether that’s through writing or painting or singing or knitting, are reward enough. Everything else is a bonus.