An open letter to anyone who thinks their writing is not good enough
Let me start by telling you are not the only one. Every writer, at the start of their journey, thinks their writing is good enough. Some like me will suffer from the malady all their lives.
Most of us, except for a few gifted occasions, are unhappy with whatever we write.
I used to be terrible to myself. On an almost daily basis, I would meticulously look for evidence to feed my belief that I was not a good writer and will never be able to become one. Yet there is nothing else I want to perfect than writing.
It is a constant battle, like losing five kilos I keep on putting back on every time I lose them. Just like my body keeps going back to the ‘overweight-threshold’ my mind keeps on going back to ‘not good enough’ baseline.
Getting good at any skill feels like climbing a mountain, the only difference is when you get to the other side you find there is another mountain. Writing is not just a mountain but a mountain range. You feel like you are climbing hill after hill.
Writing is compared to art and art takes practice.
And practice takes time.
You need to give yourself time.
Daily practice, even if it is for fifteen minutes is better than an occasional hour or a whole afternoon. Every serious writer writes daily, there is no example of anyone who wrote occasionally and produced good work but there are many who wrote daily, some only for fifteen minutes a day (think Toni Morrison), and produced a great amount of work.
More than anything else writing is about building a habit.
Initially do nothing else but concentrate on building the habit. Write anything, write about the sky, or the weather, or the surroundings, or the people around you. Develop your writing muscles. The stories will develop later. Concentrate on quantity, the quality will come later.
Always remember, there is more right with your writing than wrong.
This powerful reminder is inspired by a quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Until you stop breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong with you.”
As my friend Henneke says, “As someone who sometimes tends to zoom in on all my perceived flaws, it helps to remember that there are lots of things I like about myself too—like the fact that I’m alive and breathing and able to pave new paths whenever I choose.”
Focus on progress rather than perfection
Don’t worry about how far you have to go, look at how far you have come.
One of the biggest causes of self-loathing is our hell-bent need to “get it right.” We strive for perfection and success, and when we fall short, we feel less than and worthless. What we don’t seem to realize is that working toward our goals and being willing to put ourselves out there are accomplishments within themselves, regardless of how many times we fail.
Instead of berating yourself for messing up and stumbling backward, give yourself a pat on the back for trying, making progress, and coming as far as you have.
Forget quality, write from the heart
Ann Handley describes an article her friend, Cara published on LinkedIn titled How To: Fucking Work from Home promoting her shed business. The post is riddled with spelling errors and profanity but it caused a ruckus: 55,000 views, 624 comments, and 217 shares.
Why? Because it was authentic, written from heart, using the language she would use describing her frustration to a friend.
The post gave a clear-eyed view of one of her typically brutal mornings and by extension the chaos of mornings everywhere. It boils over with the tension anyone feels when trying to balance home, family, work, recycling day, laundry, walking the dog, dinner.
You breakthrough when you let go
I started getting better when I stopped worrying and let go. It didn’t matter whether my writing was plain, clunky and not to the level of the writers I loved reading and so admired. True it will take me years to get to their level, or I may never get there but I was writing something and it was better than what I was able to before.
In the end, frame Ira Glass’s manifesto, place it on your desk and get to work on your art.
All the best.