The Most Important Thing To Learn (in Writing and in Life)

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When I was younger, I was a big planner. This has both helped and hurt my writing career, and here’s why…

I never liked the idea of just jumping into something. I liked making lists, doing research. Getting ready. So when I decided I wanted to write a novel, I did the same thing. I set about preparing.

I read books about writing novels. I read articles on the internet about writing novels. I took classes about writing novels. For about a year, I did what it seemed like was everything under the sun to prepare myself for writing a novel.

Except, you know, actually writing.

Why?

I was scared I wasn’t ready. I was scared of doing it wrong.

Then when I finally did start writing–I panicked. I did so much rereading over what I’d written, and backtracking, and rereading articles, because I was convinced I wasn’t doing it right. I was filled with doubt, with fear, with what I’d later come to learn the name of: imposter syndrome.

Who was I, after all, to think I could do this? I was just a girl. Not Stephen King, not J.K. Rowling. Just a girl with a computer, some ideas in her head, and no idea what she was doing.

I considered giving up more times than I can count.

But I never did.

And eventually, I went from “what the hell am I doing” to figuring out what the hell it was I was doing. And dare I say it, getting better at it.

After all, Stephen King and J.K. Rowling weren’t always Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. They were just a boy and just a girl, sitting in front of a typewriter, asking it to love them. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

So the best way to learn how to do something? Do it.

This doesn’t just apply to writing. Whenever I start a new job I’m shaken by that who the hell am I what am I doing why would anyone listen to me I have no idea what I’m doing feeling.

But one of the most important things I’ve learned: everyone feels that way. Some people are just better at hiding it.

Imposter syndrome is particularly prevalent in women.  From Big Magic:

Too many women still seem to believe that they are not allowed to put themselves forward at all, until both they and their work are perfect and beyond criticism. Meanwhile, putting forth work that is far from perfect rarely stops men from participating in the global cultural conversation. Just sayin’. And I don’t say this as a criticism of men, by the way. I like that feature in men—their absurd overconfidence, the way they will casually decide, “Well, I’m 41 percent qualified for this task, so give me the job!” Yes, sometimes the results are ridiculous and disastrous, but sometimes, strangely enough, it works—a man who seems not ready for the task, not good enough for the task, somehow grows immediately into his potential through the wild leap of faith itself. I only wish more women would risk these same kinds of wild leaps. But I’ve watched too many women do the opposite. I’ve watched far too many brilliant and gifted female creators say, “I am 99.8 percent qualified for this task, but until I master that last smidgen of ability, I will hold myself back, just to be on the safe side.” Now, I cannot imagine where women ever got the idea that they must be perfect in order to be loved or successful. (Ha ha ha! Just kidding! I can totally imagine: We got it from every single message society has ever sent us! Thanks, all of human history!) But we women must break this habit in ourselves—and we are the only ones who can break it.

The best way to start anything? Do your research, do your planning, but don’t use your research and planning stages as ways to procrastinate actually doing the thing. After all, you’re writing a novel here, not performing surgery or hiking Everest. (No matter how much it might seem like it.) If you mess up, you don’t kill someone or die a screaming death off the edge of a cliff. You take a break, have a drink, and start again.

So the most important piece of advice I’ve come up with in regards to my writing journey and as a whole, my life:

Do your research, do your best, act more confident than you feel, and above all, don’t give up. 

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