I’m taking a beginning art course. I am not much of an artist and this is definitely moving me out of my comfort zone.
The other night in class, we were asked to draw a still life. It was of a Styrofoam ball and crumpled paper. The idea was that we cover the drawing pad with charcoal and then erase, or redact, the charcoal to reveal the highlights. It is basically drawing with an eraser.
When I finished, I thought I had a mess on my hands. My instructor assured me that everything I wanted was there and I was just as certain that I’d flubbed it all up . . . until I looked at the drawing days later. Then, I saw that everything I had wanted to achieve was there. And more.
How could I have missed my accomplishment? I had been ready to toss the drawing. And that is the danger of doubt, of perfectionism. The mind is too critical. At least, mine is. I can shut out what is right while my focus is on what is wrong or clumsy or amateurish—which I can see with glaring accuracy. Worse, doubt denies me the opportunity to experience what it means to evolve. Talent rarely pops up right from the start. The very nature of creativity is that we grow through experimentation and practice.
One of the challenges of writing commercial fiction is that perfectionism takes too much time and doubt is a career killer. This is the reason why some of the best writers I know have never moved beyond writing the first three chapters of their novels. They are crippled by what they can’t see yet. Every writer goes through a fear of failure. I don’t know any who aren’t convinced they suffer from a lack of talent. The ones who succeed are the ones who solider on, hoping that when they have a chance to look back, the bones of what they had envisioned will be there. Great books are built on those bones.
How to move forward before I become my own worst enemy? Here are some lessons I’ve learned—
- Find a mentor. This is someone who pushes you onward along with serving a heavy dose of encouragement. You can find these people in classes or in critiques groups. You can even hire an independent editor, one you trust. Not everyone has the gift to encourage. Wh
en you find that person, value them.
- Take a class. Push yourself. Look at what you are doing from a different perspective. There are writing classes everywhere. A weekend spent at a writing retreat can move you closer to your goals. Signing up for a class that pushes you to write faster will introduce you to new techniques and perspectives.
- Finish the book. Slog through the damn thing. Set word goals and stop going backward over what you have In the beginning, the only words that matter are new ones on a page. Later, you can “redact” what you don’t need. You can even start fresh, but with a more certain view of the story. All art is about working with the material until it sings.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. We build success on attempts that don’t quite work out. If you have it in your heart to create something, go for it. Promise yourself that for one hour a day, you will refuse to doubt and question your abilities. In that hour, let the words fly. Later, you might be surprised by what you accomplished.
Finally, always remember, you are good enough. The desire in you to create is all you need to move in the direction of your dreams.
And don’t be afraid to reach out for support.