As a child, my creativity was not exactly nurtured and encouraged. Attempts at art were met with laughter (“What is it supposed to be?”) When I tried to learn the violin, I was accused of aural torture (“It sounds like you’re trying to kill a cat.”) When I showed off my ‘ballet’ dancing, it was made clear just how wrong I was about my skill level there (“As graceful as a herd of elephants!”) As a child I didn’t understand that art has to be practised before it gets better. If I was bad at something, then I needed to stop doing it right away.
Literature and art were valued by and important to my family in some ways. But it seemed that the making of art was for other people. I grew up believing that only geniuses and special people could be painters, dancers, musicians and writers. And since I wasn’t a genius or special, any of my attempts to paint, dance, play or write would be met with laughter and a sort of nervous contempt. Who do you think you are? People are just going to laugh at you. You’re not good enough.
No wonder, then, that it took me a long time to take my writing seriously and call myself a writer. I still reel at the amount of courage needed every time I say, “I’m a writer.”
No wonder, too, that sometimes self-criticism disables or diminishes my ability to write well. It is hard to devote time and energy to writing when in your head the voices are reeling off reasons why you’re so very wrong about everything.
It helps to say to myself, as often as possible, “You are a good writer.” I don’t say it as some kind of affirmation, thinking that if I say it enough times the universe will make it come true. I say it because it IS true. Speaking the truth gives me courage. Without courage, I can’t write.
I am a good writer. I do have talent. I have the ability to move people with my words. That is not a little thing. That is not something that can be discounted or thrown away. It’s a gift, one that I should be proud of. A gift that I should protect and nurture and grow.
To say I am good doesn’t mean that I think I am great, the greatest, a genius, a wonder. Just that I am good enough. Good enough to sit down to work and try to become better. Good enough to try. Good enough to use the gifts I have in order to make the world a better place, even if it’s just a tiny little bit. Good enough to tell myself: keep going. Good enough to shout down the voices that tell me I’m an idiot for trying, that I’m hubristic for wanting to be better, that I’m making a fool of myself.
So what if I make a fool of myself? The alternative is to never risk anything. I think that’s what frightened my family – taking those risks, looking stupid to others, being vulnerable to criticism and rejection. Yes, those things are hard as hell. And sometimes (often) you do get rejected, and you do get criticised, and you do feel stupid. It hurts. But it doesn’t kill you. What kills you is never using your gift, never exploring your talent, never following your heart. What kills you is giving up. So don’t give up.