“Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly.” ~Robert H. Schuller
Here’s a confession: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was thirteen years old when I first discovered the magic of words.
Here’s another: It was only at the ripe old age of twenty-six that I could truthfully call myself a writer.
Why did it take me so long?
I often think about that. Even today, when people ask me about my writing, I struggle to say that I am a writer. I am both proud and horrified, and I constantly wonder, what will I tell these strangers if I fail?
It doesn’t begin like that, of course. As a teenager or as a child, the confidence you have in yourself is unnerving. For instance, I remember reading Agatha Christie and thinking, I could do that. Talk about confidence!
Then, of course, comes the growing up bit. Being surrounded by comparisons, either by parents or teachers or peers, chips away at this faith in yourself. And there are discouraging comments, with their implications…
“No one’s ever done this before” (so how will you?)
“Most turn into failed writers” (as will you)
“What do you want to write? Oh that? How will you earn a living with it?” (You will NOT)
It was this kind of thinking that distanced me from my dream for a long time. I grew up in an environment where being financially independent was highly valued, and I just didn’t see how writing could help me achieve the same.
Years went by, and I hardly wrote. There was the occasional poem, or a short fictional piece, but never anything substantial such as long posts or stories. It seemed I had all but given up, focusing instead on a steady, sensible career in engineering.
Engineering was so far away from the pages that I never gave writing a second thought. I knew something was missing in my life, but I just didn’t know what!
And then, something wonderful happened.
Restless, I moved to a marketing career. Not only marketing but digital marketing. Here my first job was for a technology business, handling their blog, writing daily.
Suddenly, I was back to my childhood dream. I was writing, editing, researching, and while I still had no answers to how I could sustain it, and what lay ahead, I knew one thing.
I was enjoying it, even if nothing ever came of it.
That was over five years ago, and since then I’ve taken step after step in the direction of my dreams.
Here’s what I learnt:
1. Don’t overthink it.
If you’re anything like me, you probably spend a lot of time researching before actually starting anything. It starts with good intentions (to look before you leap), but before you know it, you have spent days and days on research without writing anything.
I looked up everything: How to become a blogger? What should a writer look out for? Top five things new writers should know, etc.
But ultimately, the only way to get writing was to write. And there was no way around it. In fact, if I had skipped overthinking it and just gone with the flow, I wouldn’t have ended up in what turned out to be a big waste of my time and energy.
2. Detach your identity.
For a long time, I didn’t pick up the pen because I was scared to try. You see. if I tried and it didn’t work out, I would become that failed writer.
Without trying, I at least had the dream of being a talented, wonderful writer, albeit one that never wrote anything. It went on for some years, until I realized that time was passing without a single word from me.
And each year that went by meant lesser time for me to be any kind of writer. And that scared me more than any of the reasons holding me back!
I told myself, I will write. Now that doesn’t make me any kind of writer, it just makes me a person who writes. Who I am and what I have achieved isn’t defined AT ALL by my writing.
With this statement, I detached my identity from the task, taking off the pressure and letting myself simply…write.
3. Permit yourself to suck.
The idea of what kind of writer I should be and how my style should evolve kept me off my desk for a while. Every article I researched felt wrong and when I did write, I never seemed to like the output.
The problem? I was too wrapped up in who I should become and what should be said instead of being okay with mediocrity.
It was only after multiple attempts that I realized that I sucked because I had hardly any experience. BUT that I could become better.
All I had to do was accept that I sucked and work hard.
Only by giving myself the approval to write poorly did I finally allow progress in my work.
4. Block out the negative.
Imagine you’ve finally gotten off the couch when a negative friend comes around. Oh, this? They say it will NEVER work. What if this friend comes around routinely?
This friend can be an actual person, or it can be your own stressed, scared mind, throwing up objections and fears at you.
In my case, it was my anxiety-riddled brain, torturing me with “You’re not good at this” thoughts. Just like with a toxic friendship though, you have to shut this narrative down.
I did it simply—every time I started getting a thought like this, I would:
a) Either distract myself OR
b) Say “NO!” and cut it off before it took hold of me.
Eventually, these thoughts become fewer and fewer until they stopped bothering me too often. Similarly, steer clear of negative friends who are likely to make you feel bad about your dream. It’s your dream—you must guard it with your life!
5. Let go.
A popular quote by Arthur Ashe reads:
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
The most important tip of all? Don’t worry about what you cannot control. If you’ve done basic research (not too much) and taken the time to make up your mind, act.
There will always be things outside your power—the future is not something you can foresee. The only thing you can control is your sincere effort, so jump in!