Overcoming Creative Obstacles
Overcoming obstacles. Almost every writer I've ever talked to in the world. No, every writer I've ever talked to in the world has something that's an obstacle at some point in their writing career. I want to hear a few obstacles that you guys have between yourself, your desires, and getting the words on the page. Sometimes it's nice to share 'em because everybody has 'em. Yeah?
I would say my question or just a thought about an obstacle is somebody else has either already told the story better or more eloquent, or maybe has just a hook that's just a little bit more creative than what I could offer.
Great, we are definitely gonna cover that and I'm just gonna say one thing, is they haven't told the story because you have a different view of it, the way you interpret it, it's your unique story, so don't let that be a barrier. How about a couple more?
I'd say my biggest fear, my biggest obstacle is probably fear.
Fear of not being good enough, fear of nobody caring, fear o...
f I don't know, just sitting down and writing is kind of scary.
We are definitely gonna cover that. (audience laughs) And that is something that amazingly enough, you think all these wonderfully published, celebrated authors do not have fear, but trust me, they do, it never really goes away. You just learn to deal with it or it takes different forms. Kenna?
Grant, I wanna give a shout out to the people who are participating here and giving us their obstacles, so we have Melissa Page who is talking about procrastination. I always "should be doing" something else. We have Theresa, who is talking about, or Debbie is talking about family doesn't agree with writing, they think it's a waste of time.
That family, man. They get in the way sometimes. (audience laughs)
Yeah, exactly. And just knowing how to start is one from Wendy, so they are flowing in (laughs).
I'm glad to hear this because we're gonna deal with all those (laughs). So we're right on track. So let me think here. I think the one thing that I want to focus on that I think is the beginning of this conversation is that notice of saying I am a writer. I think it's really weird how writers have a really tough time saying I'm a writer. When I first started out in my 20s as a writer, like, when I got asked at cocktail parties or something what I did, I usually avoided the subject or did a dodge around saying I'm a writer somehow or I kind of mumbled it, I'm a writer. (audience laughs) Because I didn't want the followup question what are you writing, have you published yet? And that's because per the family standing in the way of that person's writing is that sometimes the world doesn't receive our desires in a friendly way, and especially when it's not a practical thing. Like, you can say I'm going to do this job and it will earn me money and that's a very conventional, practical thing to do, but writing, I do it as a "higher practicality" because you're serving your higher calling, so it's not necessarily practical in the usual way we think about practicality. And sometimes I think, you know, I grew up in a small town in Iowa and no one was a writer in that town (laughs). I didn't know any writers growing up, so my perception of writers, real writers, where they were other people. They were people like, when I watched movies or TV shows, they were people who lived in New York City or had MFAs, they had something that qualified them as writers, and so it gets to be kind of a damning scenario of, and then, you know, when I got to, but I'd written throughout my 20s and maybe I'd published a tiny story here or there in some literary magazine that paid me like, one free copy (laughs) of the magazine (audience laughs) or something and then went out of business. (audience laughs) So you get that question like, what are you writing, what's your novel about, have you published yet? All these people wanting to like, figure it out and a lot of giving. What amazes me that when you're a writer, a lot of non-writers give you advice (laughs). Writers kind of know when and how to give you advice, but I got advice from my parents' friends, some of them who've never really read a novel, but they would advise me how I should lead my writing career. So the thing is that we have, even famous authors have this sense of self-doubt and they have a hard time calling themselves a writer. This is a really powerful quote from Maya Angelou. She said, "I've written 11 books, but each time I think "uh oh, they're going to find me out now. "I've run a game on everybody, and they're going "to find me out." And this is amazing because 11 books, right? Some of those books sold millions of copies. She sold a poem, or she read a poem at Obama's inauguration. She's one of our most celebrated (laughs) writers and she still carries that self-doubt with her, so just know, I guess this is all to recognize that everyone has this and that it's something that we grapple with even after you've published, even after you're a real writer. Does everybody know what imposter syndrome is? Yeah? Anyone have a quick definition? I think that's what Maya Angelou was talking about when she said she's run a game on everybody, that she was an imposter, even after publishing all these books. Well, I think the definition for me is like, you feel like a phony among those who are real, the real somebodies, you know? And even if you've published a book, I think of people who have gotten MFAs, they've got a credential, they're a writer, they live in Brooklyn, they go to the right parties. It's like a secret club (laughs). And if they've been published, that even makes the club, you have to have the right knock on the door to get in and be among that crowd. So that fosters self-doubt, I think, often. I think authors are especially susceptible to imposter syndrome, and I think that's partly because when you sit down to write your book, it's inevitable that you will compare your prose to the prose of a best-selling author or your favorite author, and their prose, their story will seem so perfect and especially by comparison to your rough draft. And so that huge chasm between you and that accomplished author can be really daunting and intimidating, and make you feel like you're fake. I also think that because writing is so filled with rejection, if you have the courage to put your writing out there and submit it for publication, submit it to magazines, it's just the odds are, it's like playing the lottery in a way, you know? If you send it out to like, 50 literary journals, you might get 49 rejections, but you got to send it out to all 50. But those 49 rejections will hurt (laughs) to get that first story published. And it will make you feel like a fake. Rejection grinds us down. We need encouragement, we need to feel loved and we need success. And the worst thing about imposter syndrome, I think, is that it can hamper your creative drive, it can tamp down your creative instincts, it can hem you in. Like, when you approach something with self-confidence, you're gonna go deeper, you're gonna take risks, you're gonna make yourself vulnerable. But if you're feeling like an imposter, you're gonna say I can't write like my favorite author because they're so accomplished, they're real and I'm not. You know what I mean? Self-confidence is really a driver of good writing. I think sometimes that's underestimated. So the definition of a writer, it's very simple. (audience laughs) It's a person who writes, it's not a person who's published a book, it's a person who writes. It's as simple as that and there are plenty, there are all sorts of reasons to write a book. Your goal might be to write a best-seller, your goal might be simply to share your book with friends and family, or you might write it just for yourself. All of those are really valid reasons to write a book. So I urge you. I am a writer, think about those words, think about why you're writing. Say it with confidence, say it proudly, proclaim it to others, but mainly proclaim it to yourself and don't doubt it. You're a writer because you write. And sometimes I think it's, well, we'll move on I guess. I think sometimes it's best to like, not underestimate the value of being a beginner. This is one of my favorite quotes. It comes from Jerry Seinfeld. "The less you know about a field, the better your odds. "Dumb boldness is the best way to approach a new challenge." Yeah, we all want to be an expert, but sometimes when you become an expert, your senses are dulled. You start to be jaded, you start to maybe write in a formula without even knowing it. When I think about the freshness that I had for writing when I was in my 20s, I took so many more risks. I approached stories in so many different ways. I really was like that kid on the playground, but now somewhere in my mind I've got a little template of what a story is or what a novel is, and so I think it's really important to keep that beginner sense, and I try to remember ways to go back to it. I have children and this is kind of the best way. I was one day watching my son as he was learning to walk, which is a kind of fascinating thing because little kids, when they're learning to walk, they're sort of like drunken sailors. (audience laughs) They're just kind of careening all over the place and it looks kind of dangerous. But while I was watching him, I kind of thought that what he was doing summed up the creative process. So maybe after this slide, everyone can, we can just leave, but. (audience laughs) But when he was learning to walk, one, he didn't care if anyone was watching. He just did it. He didn't care if anyone was watching or judging, or he wasn't asking for help. He didn't need to get an MFA in walking. (audience laughs) And he approached every attempt with this spirit of inquiry. He was figuring out his body, the weight. It was like a study in gravity. You lean too much this way, you fall down and then you adjust. And the beautiful thing is he didn't mind failure. So when he plopped down, he might have cried every once in a while, but generally he fell down and he got back up, right? Failure was just part of the experiment of learning how to walk. And he took pleasure in each new milestone, so he might walk two steps, and then three steps, and then four steps, and then five steps, and each time you could see his self-confidence growing and his pleasure. And maybe crucially, he didn't try to imitate anyone. It was his walk, he was developing it. So he wasn't even comparing himself to other walkers who maybe did it better. So I want to deal with how to get some of this dumb boldness on the page.