Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Walking through walls

A former student emailed me last week, and at the close of the message, asked me if she could keep in touch. She wanted to be a writer, and if she were ever brave enough to start writing, wanted to have someone she could ask questions of.

It's that part about being brave enough that really stuck with me. On one level, I can relate. Applying to Clarion in 2008 was the first time I had ever thought about writing in a way that was serious, and not just, "hey, writing books must be a great job." Thinking about applying was terrifying - I had an enormous list of Reasons I Couldn't Go, Even If By Some Miracle I Got In, and it is only a slight exaggeration to say "the world might end" was on there. I wouldn't have applied had not life basically forced me through the fear and out the other side of it. At that point, it wasn't so much that I had become brave, it was just that I had moved beyond having any expectations.

And I get fear, and its close relation to things that you want. It can feel like the more you want something, the more terrifying it can be to go after it. It can become so easy to bind up your ideas of who you are and how much you value yourself in those dreams until the simple act of trying becomes terrifying because, oh God, what if you fail, because then failing says something about you. The coils of the snake you've wrapped around you grow tighter as it devours itself, and you never escape.

But if you wait until you're brave enough, until you're ready, until you have the perfect idea, until you have enough time, you'll never write. You'll just sit there, as the fear takes up a larger and larger place in your head, and you'll put your ideas away before they're even on paper, because you will have already convinced yourself that you can't do this thing that you want so badly to do.

Don't fulfill your own prophecy. If you want to write (or make any art), ask yourself what is the worst thing that will happen if you try. In most cases, that worst thing is that you won't succeed. You don't finish your novel. No one buys your story. And maybe those things suck, but how are they any different from where you are now?

Life is short and the world is hard, and life will keep reminding you that things fall apart. Push back against entropy, and do that thing that matters to you. Don't wait until things are perfect, because they won't be. Be flawed and imperfect and afraid because it matters, and find your voice in the mess.


  1. Thanks for this. This is so me in every way. I just recently got up the nerve to start writing and getting all of these ideas out of my head and on paper. I published my first piece as a fanfic and to my surprise I received a lot of positive feedback from the readers. Taking that first is is the hardest but it's worth it.

  2. Needed the digital encouragement today. Thanks much.

    1. Why is it that everything about writing or literature at some point sounds like advice on life itself?