Recently I was watching an interview of a successful television actor who knew from childhood that he wanted to spend his life performing for audiences. Another individual remarked during the conversation that at one point in her life she wanted to sing and was asked, then why wasn’t she singing? It seems she never did, and that ambition of hers fell through.
From all that, my question for the person who wants to be a writer but isn’t writing is then: why aren’t you putting words on the screen?
Why is there hesitation in some people to commit to the simple act of putting a plot together–however wobbly–about characters and writing down what they do and say?
Why do some wannabes struggle or balk? Why do some think they must prepare and prepare and prepare before they ever attempt describing a character or depicting two individuals exchanging dialogue?
Is it perfectionism? Is it fear?
Granted, the unknown is a scary place to venture. People with imagination can build up terrors in their minds, and those terrors can become huge walls impossible to get over.
But what, after all, is there to fear in writing fiction? You may not know how to do it, but is that so terrible? No one’s waiting with a red-hot poker to assault you if you write a sentence that’s convoluted, over-qualified, and filled with passive verbs.
Will you be laughed at because you produce a paltry little scene without conflict and no resolution? Um, not if you don’t self-publish it or otherwise show it to anyone. And even if you do, and even if you’re disappointed by your reader’s meh response, just go back and rewrite. See if you can’t do better.
Or are you so in love with your idea, so enamored of your setting, so cherishing of your characters that you hesitate to put them where anyone else might read them and snicker? Even worse, that reader might actually dare suggest you alter one perfect detail.
Are you feeling timorous because you doubt your ability to write anything? Are you wishing you’d listened to your high school grammar lessons and truly learned the correct way to punctuate? Do you feel you can’t write stories because you can’t spell worth a plugged nickel? And is it nickel or nickle, (nickel in this context) and why is the English language so darned difficult?
I watch certain individuals tie themselves into Gordian knots over these issues. On the other hand, I browse Amazon and sometimes find dozens of books that are poorly written, poorly spelled, and enthusiastically slinging fast-paced adventure tales at avid fans. In such cases, I discover authors who let nothing hold them back from doing what they enjoy doing.
When I was about nine, my mother signed me up for swimming lessons at the municipal pool. It was the start of summer. Mom worked, and she wanted me to be somewhere safe, active, outdoors, and healthy during the afternoons. She figured if I could swim, I could be at the pool by myself. The lifeguards would watch me. I couldn’t wander away from the pool and get into mischief. She had no need to find a babysitter. And it had to be better for me than sitting indoors all day, straining my weak eyes by reading book after book.
Two college boys were the swim instructors for a two-week course that was supposed to teach a child’s class in basic swimming and diving off the side of the pool. My instructor was named Perry, and after lessons he and the other teacher would take us into the snack bar for candy, a treat my parents normally didn’t allow. (Did I tell them my teacher gave us candy? Absolutely not!) Perry must have been a wise and patient young man because for the first week he could not persuade me to put my face in the water. I adored Perry and would have done anything for him, except that. Yet Perry remained calm and persuasive. Every day, while the other kids were bobbing up and down and paddling around, I would not put my head beneath the surface. Perry had to explain to my mother why I was a week into the course and still unable to paddle. Finally, Perry figured out some way to convince me to try holding my breath and going under.
It was wonderful! I loved it. That night, I had to get into the bathtub in my swimsuit to show my father how I could hold my breath.
After that, although I never became a skilled or proficient swimmer, I learned several strokes and could then spend my summers at the pool, dropped off by my parents on their lunch break and picked up on their way home from work. Just imagine how much better a swimmer I could have learned to be if I hadn’t been so stubborn and afraid to try at first? Of course, as an adult I could have taken more lessons and become good in the water had I possessed enough interest, but it didn’t matter to me enough to put in the practice.
So it is with any skill. In writing, if you feel compelled to bring a story from your heart and imagination and make it live on the page, then just … do it.
No, it’s not going to be perfect. No, it’s probably not going to be quite the result you envisioned. That comes with practice. But no story can be revised or improved if it’s not first written. Who needs perfection at the start? Confidence comes from attempting something again and again until you know how.
As a teacher of writing, I’ve seen talented students get in their own way with doubts, hesitations, and stubborn refusals to take constructive criticism. Their natural abilities fall fallow and never reach the potential shining within them. So many problems with writing stem from psychological causes, and those I can’t fix.
I only can be like Perry, patiently offering feedback and trying one strategy then another to persuade a recalcitrant writer to leap for it. And I keep asking the question: if you truly want to be a writer, why aren’t you writing?