Do you ever feel like your creative endeavor isn’t worth the effort because you’ll never be as good at it as others are? You are not alone! This is something I struggle with more than anything else. I am competitive by nature, and was raised with the marching order: “If you’re going to do it, do it right!”
What I since realized was that I did what came easy, regardless of whether or not I had a passion for it. Playing piano was easy. I could hit the right notes, read and quickly memorize music, and enjoyed performing; but I didn’t love it enough to endure all the hours of practice required to take it to the next level. School came easy. I had a sharp memory and loved classes where I could research, read, and write; but since it came easy, I never learned good study skills and had a shock when I got to college. Tennis and debate came easy and I earned my varsity letters my freshman year of high school; but I wasn’t passionate enough to figure out how to continue in either when I changed high schools and there were no tennis nor debate teams.
I really enjoyed drawing and sculpting, but apparently didn’t have natural talent, so gave both up quickly. More than all those things, I loved writing. Didn’t matter what… birthday cards, essays, journal or diary entries, phone messages, printing, typing, cursive, shorthand, research papers, sermon notes. Do you notice what’s missing? Stories. I made up so many stories in my head, but rarely wrote any down. I was certain I couldn’t “do it right.” I was afraid of being judged and found lacking. It was safer not to.
Reading was the next best thing. I love reading! All genres of books, cereal boxes, instruction manuals, cards, comic books, textbooks… but especially novels. I’d rather read a novel than do just about anything. When I discovered Victorian literature in middle school, the library became by absolute favorite place on earth. So eventually I went on to become an English major, focusing on British Literature. I could analyze, research, read, and write about literature. It came easy and I was good at it. So I continued on to graduate school and focused on Victorian Crime Novels and Rhetoric. I found my passion. And then, in my last semester, in a class taught by my committee chair, I was required to write a ten-page short story. I stressed over that more than anything I had done my entire college career. I was terrified it wouldn’t be good enough, or that my professor would be disappointed. How relieved I was when he returned it with an “A” and commented it was a “fun read.” Each student in the class was asked to post their stories on the online blackboard so we could read and comment on each other’s work. I became physically ill. But my classmates, from all walks of life, actually enjoyed my little story.
Then, two months later, came the first two of my strokes. I was grateful to be alive, but I had to learn to do just about everything over again, including reading and writing. So with the encouragement and direction of my occupational therapist, I got a box of jumbo crayons and started scribbling. I had to learn just like a toddler does. For the first time, it didn’t come easy to me. Scribbling, then coloring, then drawing, then ABC’s, then sight words, then basic spelling. It took almost a year to learn to read at a basic high school level.
But I learned something so much more important—when you aren’t worried about doing something well, you can enjoy it for what it is. I knew I was never good at drawing, and I knew it was just a stepping stone to writing, but it was fun. I didn’t have to be good. No one, not even me, cared. I watched videos on art history, and drawing and painting technique, started an art journal just to play with the techniques. For the first time I was able to create without anyone critiquing it. Some days I just played with color. Just because it made me happy.
Realizing I’d never be able to commit to a full-time job again, I had to figure out what I was going to spend my life doing. After months of debating with myself, I though of what else made me happy. Writing. But I was terrified. I had a great education in literary analysis and teaching, but creating my own stories and letting strangers read them… that might be just too much. I worked through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and discovered that creating for the sake of creating was enough. She also pointed out that we get in trouble when we compare our novice attempts to the master’s masterpieces. That got my attention. All those years of reading, studying, and teaching the great works of British Literature had set me up for failure. There was no way I could compete with those literary giants.
About that time, I went and spent almost three weeks with my best friend from college in Tennessee. I doubt I was even able to put these thoughts into words for myself, but somehow she knew I was struggling with finding a purpose. She had been a music major, and seems to still communicate through music. She gave me a song. “For Such A Time As This” by Crystal Lewis on the GOLD album says,
“Sometimes the thrill of soaring has to begin with the fear of falling.”
This had double meaning for me since I’m also terrified of heights. But by this point I had survived five strokes and heart surgery. What did I have to fear? I started writing my stories. I even took them to be critiqued by other writers. Still dragging my feet on finishing my first novel, I realized recently that it’s still about the fear of not being able to “do it right,” or to be as good as the authors I love. My competitive nature and fear of falling is holding me back.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had a number of migraine days, and took the opportunity to listen to one of my favorite authors and pod-casters from the beginning. I’ve read her best-selling books, and listened to her podcast for the last year or so, and loved them. But those beginning efforts… my goodness! If I had been introduced to her through her first attempts I would never have read or listened to her again. But then I was intrigued. I kept listening to learn how she developed and changed. It wasn’t until her fortieth podcast that it started to sound like her. At about her fiftieth podcast, I started to actually enjoy and not critique. By her hundredth, she was a total pro. What if she had given up because she wasn’t as good as the others who had been doing it longer. I’ve learned so much from this lovely lady.
Today, once again, I am recommitting to stop the comparing and competing with experienced professionals and just write because I want to, because I love to. It doesn’t have to be a best-seller. No one even has to read it. I just have to write because it makes me happy. What are you not doing because you’re afraid of not doing it as well as those creatives you admire? Will you take the chance with me? Will you risk falling to see if you might actually soar?