But What if it Sucks?
All right, moving right along to the big old elephant in the living room. But what if it sucks? What if I don't have it, what it takes? What if I'm not talented? So, we go back to that story of my friend, when she told me well, writing's hard for you, so you must not really be a writer. Well, what she was really saying is you're not talented. You don't have what it takes and I do. Right? And I believed that, and I struggled with that for a long time. But what I've learned is it might be crap and it doesn't mean anything! It doesn't mean anything! So, let me make a case for this. So, the story that we have in our culture, or most cultures, is that talent's either something you got or you don't. You're either good at it or you're not. Maybe you need to work a little bit, you need a practice a little bit, but basically, you got what it takes. Well, the work of Carole Dweck at Stanford, and before that at Columbia, proves in study after study, experiment after study, talent isn't as import...
ant as the attitude or mindset you bring to it. So, she did the work around growth mindset and fixed mind set. Do you any of you all know that work? Super powerful. Super powerful to apply to your writing. So, the fixed mindset and growth mindset, we all have them. We don't get rid of the fixed mindset. So, it's not something that we like, we're always gonna be working with it. But the fixed mindset says, "Okay, this is all I can do "with my writing. "This is all I got." And so, either I quit or I fake it. And the faking thing often leads us right back into that imposter feeling. So because I can't really write in my voice or I can't write about what I care about, I should do this over here. The fixed mindset says this is all I've got, I can't learn or grow very much. The growth mindset says uh-uh. Sure you have natural talents and abilities. But you have untold possibilities if you're willing to grow and learn. You don't even know what you can do. This isn't an affirmational kind of new age thing. It's not like I'm gonna become an Olympic skier tomorrow. No, that ship has sailed. It's what can I learn and how can I grow as a writer. And how can I embrace that ability when I get stuck? When I get frustrated, when I'm the Roomba in the corner, that's when I have to remember that I have the capacity to learn and grow. So, the talent is not the question. The question is are you willing to learn. So different, right? If we think about okay, talent is something I've got or I don't got, then I'm stuck. But if the question is huh, I'm stuck, I don't know how to do this, what do I need to learn? And my favorite, what do I need to learn next? This is the question that I made from Dweck's work. So, let me give you an example. I'm dyslexic, as I mentioned earlier. I'm writing a memoir with a really complicated time structure. I have a really hard time putting you, the reader, in time and space, and giving you bridges so you know where you are. If I don't do that, you'll get lost, you won't read it. That might be really easy for you and come really naturally. For me, it's as if my whole brain just shuts down. So, what do I ask myself? Instead of well that's just it, can't do it. It's not gonna work, obviously. What do I need to learn next? I pull down a couple memoirs from my bookshelves and I start looking through them for how does Mary Carr handle time jumps? Now, I'm not gonna copy it exactly, but you're surrounded by writing that has the solutions to you. I'm not trying to figure out for all time in the book, that would be completely overwhelming and make me wanna quit, just so I can get through this place. Just so I can keep going here. What do I need to learn next is both the growth mindset question that reminds you you can learn, and then it makes it less overwhelming, so you can produce something, learn something right then from one of your writing books, one of your favorite authors, from your Creative Live classes, and apply it right there. The other thing, a couple things I also wanna say about does it suck, do I have talent, if you have words on a page, they are gold, because you can deepen and thicken them. You can find the places that aren't working and you can take them out of that document and do a free write and then put the pieces that you want back in. When you have nothing on the page, you have nothing to work with. You're like a sculptor without any clay. So, instead of looking at it like oh, look at this. Now, oh my god, what am I gonna do with this? Shitty first draft. Wow, I have a shitty first draft! This is so exciting. I have raw material to work with. And every writer will tell you that is absolutely the truth. It's painful truth, but it's a truth. If you feel like your work is crap or it's not working, think about the imposter stuff we talked about. And think about me and my first book proposal. Maybe you've gotten away from yourself. Maybe you've gotten away from what you really wanna say. Maybe you've gotten away from your voice and it's time to actually go back to the original spark or the original moment of inspiration and say where did I get lost. So, it can be a wake up call to the fact that you're writing something that you don't care about, that's not yours. The only difference between writers who write and writers who don't is the writers who don't let the gap stop them. They say, all right, I wanted to say X, but what I said was poo (laughing), and I don't like it. And so, because there's a gap between what I wanted to say and what I said, I can't do it. But writers who keep writing say that gap is what every creative person experiences. Every creative person sits down to say something, paint something, draw something, take a picture and so rarely do that capture what they want. Sometimes it's really far apart. Sometimes it's just this. So, writers who keep writing learn to be comfortable in the gap. They learn to say okay, I calmed myself down, I used some of those threat response, anxiety abatement ideas, I tell myself this is normal, and I ask myself what do I need to learn. I remember when I was writing my magazine column once, I was on vacation with my family, and my husband came out of the cabin we were renting, and I was writing away, and he's like oh, how's it going? And I said oh, really badly. He's like oh, I'm so sorry. And I said, oh no. This is just what happens. Because I had done enough writing that I'd studied my work style enough and my process to know this was normal, this was the gap. I was in the gap. No reason to flip out or make it mean anything about my talent or my abilities or what would I end up sending to my editor for my deadline. So, the gap exists for everybody. And your homework is to write on a post-it note or put it in your writing file, everybody has a gap. (laughing) So, when it happens to you, the next time you write, which it will, you begin to normalize it. You begin to realize it means nothing except what do you need to learn, how can you embrace the growth mindset instead of the question of talent. The question of talent is an empty question. It's not gonna help you get your writing done. It's not real.