When I was younger, I thought everything I did was AMAZING. Except for band but I’ve already told that story. There was a time when I didn’t hold myself to a impossible standard. You look in my online teen diary (well, if I let you) and you’ll see me comment about how “I’m a good artist” or I can do this well or that. Nowadays? Not so much.
It was this thought that came to me I was standing on a tennis court this past weekend. I mean, I was hitting some of the serves, and my partner was complimenting me, but I was fixating on this idea that I wasn’t doing it “right” in my mind and thus, was awful. It didn’t matter that it was only my 5th time out on the court and I already was hitting at least 2 out of 3 balls back. I wasn’t doing it up to my standards. Though I didn’t know enough about the sport to even have correctly have an idea of “the right way.”
Sometimes I set impossibly high standards for myself. I don’t know how I could really set some for tennis, as I’m not very versed in tennis at all, but I did. It’s the same with writing. When I was in high school, I could nail down a paper like THAT and never second-guess myself. But when I got to college, that tapered off. I was always second-guessing, rewriting, worrying. And the creative writing stopped. I’d sit in front of the computer for fun! in middle school and write many stories. When did writing become a thing I had to perfect? A chore? When did it stop being fun?
It’s getting better, the doubt, it is. I take a piece of writing to a SCBWI meeting or show a friend, and they respond very favorably. It blows my mind. Even my query letter was well-received by a guest editor, and that blew my mind. They even said the novel was “different” and in my head, I keep telling myself different is a good thing.
I think sometimes don’t write because I’m scared to. It’s easier not to try. Can’t fail if you don’t try, right? I’m not going to be as good as that book or that author, so why try. I think that’s where the standards come from. Some abstract idea of what my writing should be will worm its way into my head (I have the same approach with reviews) and stall me.
I imagine self-doubt as this dragon waiting to devour me. It’s lurking in the corner as I prepare to type, sending thoughts like this:
“Oh that line’s not funny, how could this be funny? Why oh why am I writing this?” x infinity
It’s there when I see books I’d love to be a fraction near as far as quality. It’s as annoying as those damn Charmin bears and worms its way into my head like a bad commercial jingle.
There’s this quote I adore above all quotes. I have loved it for years, and I try to remember it every time I get daunted by anything.
Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave
If you know me, you’ve probably heard me say it or offer it as advice. It’s Rainer Maria Rilke, a line from his book Letters to a Young Poet, which if you didn’t know, is a collection of letters from a young poet to poet Rilke about creativity and wanting a writing career. He expressed doubt. And the way I view this quote is that everything that is a problem can teach us something.
Self-doubt is the dragon I must slay. I don’t understand why I let it get to me so much. Not everybody loves their work upon first attempt. If you don’t try, you don’t get better.
I put myself through the ringer so much about things I create that I will be solid as a rock during the publication journey of submitting, rejection, etc. This I know for sure. And I need to approach my writing with the mentality of 11 year old me – that everything is full of wonder and promise. If only it were that easy!