Go For It
I remember hearing once that people are more afraid of public speaking than death itself. Mulling this over, I realized it isn’t the act of public speaking, but rather the fear of not fulfilling expectations.
Expectations are the imaginary reins we put on ourselves, imagining that we know what everyone expects and that we are going to fall short.
Since I was a child I enjoyed writing. My best friend and I even formed a recess writer’s club in elementary school consisting of two other members that involved reading and editing each other’s fiction stories and reading aloud our favorite passages. When I entered sophomore year of high school we began analytical reading — picking apart great works such as the Scarlett Letter, unearthing the hidden metaphors line by line until what began as a fictional world filled with vibrant characters became tragically and academically deconstructed. Graduate school was a creativity-killer. Rather than expanding my mind, my brain was fatigued by the massive amounts of text book reading assignments. We were forced to adhere to the attitude of “less is more” and to “simplify, simplify simplify.” We honed our skills of cutting all “needless” (I say interesting) adjectives that would slow down the harried public servant who would be reading our hypothetical policy proposal. Time is money, after all, even in the nonprofit world. Corporate culture’s business writing called for dry, efficient and concise emails and campaigns.
For years I lay the blame on these culprits that stole my UMPH and dried up my creative desires. I thought perhaps I had even outgrown my desire to write after being re-stylized, graded and corrected in such a rigid mold.
After seeing me return home haggard and unhappy after another dreary day at the office, my spouse asked me, “What do you really want to be doing? What would make you happy?” My immediate response: “I want to write. I want to write a novel.” Automatic reaction of self-doubt: “but it’s not feasible. I don’t have the time or energy at the end of the day. My first novel needs to be perfect. It’s what the rest of my career will be judged by.” Where did this idea come from? (I have no solid source for it.)
“So maybe you want to write a novel. But maybe you don’t have to write a novel right away to be a writer,” he told me. Stubbornly, I adhered to the notion for another year that to be an actual writer I had to produce a fully formed novel, have it published, have it reach the top of the New York Times best seller list, etc. Recently I’ve started writing again. I’m taking baby steps. I am not scrapping every “novel” when I get stuck. Instead, I relocate it to a “story scraps” folder and focus on short stories. I have made an effort to read for pleasure again. I am sharing my experiences here, with you. I have not published the next great American novel…yet. But here I am writing rather than failing by not even trying.