I’m currently sitting in my bed, ready to fly back home tomorrow and leave my UK family once again, trying to remember I’m an adult and to stop being sad, damnit.
So, in light of that… Hands up everyone who feels like an adult.
Hand up nice and straight if you feel like you know what you are doing, every day, in this thing called life. If you have the whole paying bills, making appointments, succeeding at work and being a parent thing sorted.
Hands in the air if you are in total control of your finances, including taxes and interest rates, with an adequate and suitable amount put by for your later life and inevitable death.
No one? No?
Well… that’s not very surprising 🙂
I think the only thing any of us ‘adults’ can probably agree on as being an actual step into adulthood… is that moment when you realize that everyone else you know, including your parents, grandparents and every other adult ever, is literally making things up as we go along.
Not one person alive today with a normal brain (as opposed to narcissism or psychosis) is totally certain of how exactly to be a good adult. It still horrifies me that my grandparents and parents were willing to have kids as young as they did when I now know what a clueless idiot I was at that age. Kids? At 19? Are you crazy?!
Of course, this isn’t to say that we’re all gawping morons acting out some play to each other day by day. No, most of us have some aspects of being an adult down pat. We’re good and well practiced in certain ways, whether it be cooking, our career, or winning the world record for laundry folding for the fifth week in a row.
And, for the most part, that’s where we try to stay. Inside our comfort zones, with the tasks and routines we know best.
Comfort Zones and Writing
So let’s get to the point of why I’m wittering about all this today.
I’ll go ahead and boldly claim most adults don’t really know what they’re doing, or at least don’t feel confident in it most of the time… and that writing is exactly the same in that regard.
Becoming a writer has taught me all sorts of lessons I didn’t expect to learn. Like the fact that you cant trust the rules, characters need leashes to stop them doing dumb things and there is no such thing as an expert.
I’ve also learned that writing has no comfort zone.
Sure, there are things I prefer to do. World building, dialogue, descriptions of new locations the first time a character sees it… but even these things aren’t comfortable.
Indeed, writing often feels like I have a brain made of squirming thought worms, even when I’m doing the ‘fun’ bits.
Part of the point of writing, for me, is to understand the world and my own thoughts. The world inside my head can operate on the rules I believe in, rather than the real world where the thoughts of others often hem us in.
But shy of writing the blandest children’s book ever, my work needs to be stress tested and the boundaries pushed to show why my thoughts are valid or to let the point shine through. Even when I am writing something ‘easy’ (Anka is a morally upright person, and wants to bring fairness to her country), something uncomfortable tags along with it (fairness for all often comes at the cost of injustice to a few, even under the best circumstances.)
Writing never becomes comfortable for me, because I am always contextualizing, thinking, analyzing, planning. Every line is read against the next and the one before and then compared to the plot and the point. Is it realistic? Is it believable? Is it satisfying?
Most often, even after edits and rewrites, I step away going ‘no, no and no’, because I can only fit so many thoughts in my head at once… but I also never give up.
Outside my comfort zone, after all, is where adventures happen.
Fear of Failure
So back to those worms in my head!
Their squirming, I have found, comes from my inherent fear of the unknown. It’s a fear most of us have, and despite the fact most decent human beings won’t judge you for not being perfect at something you’ve never learned to do before, we still inherently fear that as a species.
Heaven forbid anyone see your first efforts to plait little Jenny’s hair, now it’s long enough, you must only post pictures of her in perfect braids. Which took you 50+ times to learn to do well.
It’s a weird dichotomy we have. I mean, we expect runners and football players and swimmers to practice. We know it can take years of effort for someone to get really good at a sport, and then we cheer them on as they swim that lap, run that race, score that goal.
But can you imagine an athlete just turning up on race day, out of the blue, and expecting to be perfect? Can you imagine as an audience expecting to see him be perfect?
That’s ludicrous and unrealistic… in every field of life. Including writing.
I’m nearly two years in my journey as a writer, from the moment I first wrote the word ‘Hevna’ at the top of the page, and often I find myself feeling awful that I haven’t finished a book yet. I fear the failure at the end of this all, when I put my work down as ‘finished’ (as close to that as one can get, anyway), only to have it rebuffed or picked apart by critics.
I don’t know whether I’ll get a publisher. I don’t know whether I’ll get an agent. I don’t know whether I’ll self-publish, or if my words will just be hated.
But I do know I’m in my thirties and chose to try something new. I chose to go outside my comfortable life in sunny Florida, where I can play video games all day and do nothing else save keep house if I so choose… and do something no one could teach me how to do.
I’m deathly afraid of failure, and of rejection. I’d love to be pithy and cliché and say that my fear of never having written at all outweighs that… but it doesn’t.
I’m terrified of failure, of being judged, and I don’t think of my writing as some mystical ‘calling’. It’s a choice I have, and one I make every day. I choose to write. I want to write. And I want to face my fears, head on.
Of course, I don’t know what I’m doing… but no one else does either.
Humility & Arrogance
The last thing I said up there sounds a lot like arrogance, huh? But it really isn’t.
There’s this quiet underlying idea I’ve had, and I doubt I’m alone in it, that I don’t deserve to be a writer. That I’m wasting mine and my husbands time, especially as there are so many better-qualified people to write than myself.
I’m not worthy to be a writer, what with my lack of college degree or upper-class position. Nevermind that William Shakespeare was far from an aristocrat (despite the wealth he endeavored to display) and that the best selling books these days don’t exactly come straight from the Royal households of Europe.
It is pure arrogance to assume I can write a book, or even write this blog as if I know a damn thing about anything I discuss here.
And that’s nonsense.
Arrogance, with writing, would come from assuming I am always right, that I can get a script perfect first time and I have nothing more to learn.
Like most writers… I’m at the exact opposite end of the spectrum from that, mired in thoughts more akin to ‘I have too much still to learn, that persons work really opened my eyes to new ideas and oh gods above I’m such a beginner.’
Humility comes from knowing your own flaws, your desire to better yourself and to give credit to others where due. It comes from a humbleness of your own ability, and to know that while you are important and your story should be told, it is not the most important thing the planet will ever see, and you always have room for growth.
Seeking this growth is what makes many writers press on. Writing a book, creating a novel, isn’t arrogant or time wasting. And everyone who ever sits down to try, who risks failure with their first word and judgment when they look around them, should be proud they gave it a try.
Personal growth is no bad thing.
I will always be a beginner, I think. Every work I have sat down to, the feeling of uncertainty has always been the same, no matter what I have learned from what comes before.
True, I’m getting better at recognizing certain patterns in my work, and finding some flaws before I ever commit them to paper… but I doubt there will ever come a day where I just sit down, dash out a piece of prose, and call it fine without any edits.
Through my whole life so far, I have never stopped learning or wanting to learn and I can only hope that stays with me into my dotage. I like learning, I like new things. I like challenges and something to keep my little grey cells active.
While my writing may never come to show it (or maybe it will!) I’m quite clever, and I don’t want to be an idle housewife.
I would always far rather be a beginner writer, from now until my final days, with a brain of squirming ideas and conflicting thoughts, outside my comfort zone, just trying to get through. Trying to tell a story.