Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pickpik.com
I’m lucky. I’ve had the same dream since kindergarten: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’m lucky to know, because I’m aware there are many who don’t know what their ‘best life’ looks like. I, however, have had this steady fantasy for the past three decades, so I’m pretty sure it’s a keeper.
That being said, apart from 4 early reader’s non-fiction books, blogging, the odd few days once a year I write a few pages and a novel in my teenage years (and some paid commercial copywriting which in no way qualifies as creative expression) I don’t really write. I don’t write the novels that come up in my head, or the screenplays I see play out in front of my eyes. I’ve always had this dream, and it’s always been a ‘one day, when I have time‘-kind of story. Why is that? Why don’t I just write NOW? It’s not like I don’t make time for other things. I knit from time to time, I found time to add a translation job to my day job and I’ve spent countless hours wasted on Netflix, Youtube and facebook. It’s also not that I don’t enjoy writing when I get to it. I love the feeling of creating a story, or capturing an important idea in a few well-balanced sentences.
So what is it then that keeps me from doing just that?
Over the years I’ve come up with a few answers, but it was not until reading the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, that I recognized many of the obstacles that are really at the root of why I don’t write (or why you don’t paint, or play music, or sculpt, or start your own business…). She writes a long – though far from exhaustive – list of all the fears we have that keep us from living creative lives. And then urges you to welcome that fear and take it along on all your journeys (though never to put it in the driver’s seat).
I’ve listed a few of the beliefs below that have kept me from writing to be able to take an honest look at them, and to start putting new convictions in place that better serve me. You might recognize one or two as well.
- I’m not a good enough writer/dancer/musician/… I should’t even try.
I don’t have the skills I need, or the diploma, or the experience…
Gilbert has a great way of moving around this one: You don’t have to be ‘good’ in order to be creative. What does ‘good’ even mean? It’s all a matter of personal taste. You can just follow the impulse and dedicate yourself to your creativity, whether it leads you places or not. The reward is in the work itself, not in where it goes after you’ve finished it. And you pick up skills along the way, while doing something you enjoy.
She also has a rather classical view of talent: To her, inspiration is a muse that comes and goes. If you show up for the work, that’s your part of the contract taken care of. Whether Inspiration shows up is kind of outside of your control. If it does, and you create something amazing, you can only take partial credit. If it doesn’t, and your work sucks, you’re also only partially to blame.
- Everything great has already been done.
Or as Gilbert puts it: “Maybe you fear that you’re not original enough.” She encourages use to be authentic rather than original, since it’s true that all great storylines have already been written. It’s your unique vision, your set of experiences, your specific emotions that make it truly authentic and thus worth reading.
- Creative expression is not useful/productive enough.
This one I’ve sort of inherited. All activities that have no economic or practical worth were pretty much deemed without value as I grew up. Drawing, music, writing… these are hobbies. And as an adult, it’s pretty clear you should not take your hobbies too seriously, and you should definitely never make it a priority.
That’s going to change, even if I have to keep swatting at those thoughts like you have to at midgets in Scotland (or so I’ve heard). I can choose to spend my time in whatever way I see fit, no matter what anyone (aka my mother) has to say about it.
- I just don’t feel inspired right now, so I guess it’s not a good time to write.
I’ve used this excuse for the longest time. It’s a really effective one because the fact is: As long as you keep going in your busy, stressful, hectic life, inspiration is not going to get anywhere near you. It’ll patiently wait somewhere in the suburbs of your metropolitan life until you decide to make room for it.
So if I want to write, I just need to etch out time for it, often en regularly. In this matter, this blog has done just that for me. I’ve pledged to myself that I would keep up a steady rhythm of two blog posts per week, whether I feel inspired or not. Sometimes those blog posts nearly write themselves and it’s harder not to write them than to write them at all. And sometimes I struggle to get something decent onto the screen. But there’s no saying at the beginning of the writing session what it’s going to be that day. Some blog posts are written in one go, some are written in small patches as I steal a few minutes here and there when the kids are playing. See, I always had this time after all.
- What if it’s all for nothing?
Well, that depends on what you do it for, right? If it’s for the pure joy of creation, for no other reason than ‘it’s what I want to do’, then it’s never in vain. This blog, for example, is my way to figure out stuff, and to make room for that (and for writing itself). If you’re creating for the sole purpose of making nr. 1 on the bestseller list or filling a famous gallery, that’s a different story. I guess it’s really important to figure out your own motivation in this case.
“If what I’ve written here ends up helping you, that’s great, and I will be glad. That would be a wonderful side effect. But at the end of the day, I do what I do because I like doing it.”Elizabeth Gilbert – from: Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear
6 thoughts on “What’s Stopping Me From Being a Writer?”
I stumbled upon your blog and enjoyed reading it. Very relatable, some struggles most creatives have, including myself, even when i’m not a writer. It made me think about the book ‘The War of Art’ of Steven Pressfield. Thank you for sharing.
Hi! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I think those struggles keep us from doing a lot of things we really want to do, to be honest. Fear puts pokes its nose in many places where it isn’t wanted. Thanks for the book reference, I’ll be sure to look into it!
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I love reading your posts and am so inspired by your dedication to posting so regularly and maintaining your habit. I have always wanted to be a writer as well, and I know we connected on this in China. I recently started reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I HIGHLY recommend it. I’m only halfway through and I know it’s changed my writing life. It’s all about developing our writing practice and habit. If you ever wanted to form some sort of online writing group with the two of us and any others, let me know. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Robin, thanks for your wonderful comment and tip. I’ll be sure to order the book by Natalie Goldberg, I see it’s a classic in its genre. I’ll get back to you on the writing group! I realise it can be a great way to stay motivated to write and to build a regular writing habit.
I think fears like this are timeless. I’ve wanted to be a writer for a while too, but have been hindered by the same doubts, particularly the idea that, since there’s unlikely to be any monetary value, it’s not worth pursuing. Hopefully you persisted (I’m aware I’m late to stumbling upon this post!) and kept on writing
Thanks for the comment and the reminder. I continue the blog regularly but haven’t been keeping up with fiction, poetry and free writing. You’ve inspired me to add it to my schedule. Thanks 🙂