How believing you’re a terrible writer will make you a great writer. (Or at least less terrible)

Who decides to be a writer? It’s not fun. It’s not always fulfilling. I think there are very rare occasions where I have enjoyed writing. I’ve liked things I’ve written and I’ve been proud of them. But rarely, do I actually enjoy it.

It’s fucking hard. It’s boring. Most of the time all it provokes are feelings of self hatred. It feels like a punishment.

But we carry on, somehow. It sure as hell isn’t anything to do with me. I’m not able to do this on my own strength. Most of the time, I want to throw the computer in the sea. Like go up to a large cliff and just toss this shit over the edge.

But I don’t. Mostly because that would be mental but largely because when I do need to write again, I’ll regret it.

The shitty first draft, as Anne Lamott names it, is exactly that. I’ve never sat down and just had the words magically flow out like in some romantic version of what we think it is supposed to like. Notice, also how I didn’t state this, as “some romantic version of what it means to be a writer.”

Writing that just makes me cringe. Ugh. How pretentious to call yourself a writer!

This is where our Shadow kicks in. The part of you that you don’t want to know exists but you do know.

Your Shadow may look different that mine, but ultimately it’s that part of us, that cringes when we think of ourselves as writers. What I do, is imagine what people are thinking if I introduced myself to them as a writer.

On the outside, they just nod politely but inside they’re like, “What a wanker” or “Dickhead”.

I can’t disagree with them because if someone else were to call themselves a writer, I would think exactly the same. Except of course, I’m projecting. I’m actually just calling myself a wanker. You, wanker!

The reason I feel embarrassed of calling myself a writer, is not because it’s embarrassing to be a writer, but because people will inevitably think that I’m not a very good writer. That’s what I’m anxious  about. If it wasn’t writing, it would be plumbing or making coffee or anything else that people do that other people are probably better at than they are.

So what to do with the pesky Shadow? Because it seems that the more I beat it up verbally in my mind, the more it remains ambivalent. Which makes it even more of a nuisance. I beat it up over and over but it just keeps coming back for more. Not in a resilient, “just try me pal” sort of way. Just, an emotionless can’t be broken sort of way.

Eventually, by sheer exhaustion, we’re left to confront it and ask” Ok, now what?! Eh? You win? Is that what you want to hear?”

As it turns out, it’s not. Because that would suggest some sort of emotion is at play.

So in the end, due to some sort of twisted creative Stockholm syndrome, we end up having to make friends with it. That’s where the realisations hits you, your Shadow is exactly that, your shadow.

It’s you. It always was you. It’s the parts of you that feels like a massive prick for wanting to be a writer in the first place.

It’s the embarrassment you feel when someone compliments something you wrote, because you’re trying to protect yourself. Even though you want everyone to think you’re fucking brilliant. You start to realise why you can never win.

So you look the Shadow in the face and you just accept it for what it is. You just accept that you may look like a wanker to some people. You accept that what you’re about to write is going to be horrendously terrible. You accept that you don’t have a lot of natural talent for this and it is going to be  a slog. You accept that some people think you are evil personified. You accept all the negative things you think about yourself when you think about being a writer.

You don’t necessarily feel a fuzzy wuzzy warm feeling towards you Shadow, but it’s your shadow and darn it, it’s not going anywhere.

So you stick by each other, in an love hate hate hate love relationship because what this does is free both of you.

Think about it like this. No matter what I write, no matter how amazing I think it is or how amazing the vast majority of people think it is, someone will think it’s the worst thing ever to be inflicted on the human race.

That’s just a categorically true fact. The specific things about what you create that they hate, may vary. They may think you are wrong, or that it is just poorly written or that you have to be stopped by any means necessary, but it’s going to be true every time and you need to accept it.

Then there is another scenario. One that shows us probably the most valuable part of your Shadow; sometimes what you create is going to be terrible. Like terrible in a way that, you’ll actually invent a new way of being awful. You know those people who love things like the Room? You know the phenomenon where things are so bad they’re actually good?

Yeah, even this is on a different level. People will be embarrassed for you. So bad that you really ought to just delete it completely. Tommy Wisseu will even deny knowing you. Yeah, that’s how bad it is.

But it’s ok because you’ve accepted that it’s going to be like this sometimes.

We write because we have this deep beautiful burning itch inside us (metaphorically speaking, otherwise please seek medical advice) that can only be satisfied when we write.

But let’s also be clear. We write because we want our ego stroked. We want to be thought of as a great thinker and articulator. Yeah, yeah I was born to write and I didn’t choose to write, writing chose me, yada yada.

But in the end, I just want to be loved. That’s why I write.

But I’m not going to find it there. I’m only going to find it, when I fully and unconditionally accept that thing I just wrote which even Tommy Wiseau would have been embarrassed by. That’s our shadow. When I fully accept the very worst thing I have created then we’re free.

We’re free to create because we write knowing that it’s ok if it’s terrible. If we accept that, there is nothing left to be anxious about. The acceptance means that there is no pressure on us. Imagine every time you sit down to write you accept that it may be awful.

Now this may seem depressing and detrimental to our goal of creating.

But the part of you that I just described; the part where writing is just something that you need to do, can finally breathe.

It can create what it needs to today. The Shadow is the part of us that keeps our ego in check because our ego is always going to want to take over. Our ego isn’t evil necessarily but it can quickly hijack the work we want to accomplish.

So when we accept the worst of ourselves, no one else can use it against us. If I know my writing is sometimes shit, then it’s not news someone else telling me that it is.

It may not change the world, but now you’re free from the pressure of it needing to change to world.

Then and only then, will it actually have the possibility of doing so.

Why Your New Years Resolution Are Going To Fail. (Oh, and Happy New Year)

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Look I am as sick of writing New Years’ Resolution posts as you are of reading them. This is the time of the year when we bloggers can’t think of anything else to write so decide to get high and mighty and tell you why you suck.

But let’s be honest, we never learn. Every year we come back to the same guilt and shame and announce to the world via Twitter that this is the year that we lose weight or take up running or whatever. Continue reading

Brad Pitt, Where Ideas Come From and Why Everything Should Be Sacred To The Writer.

I am not in control.

You are not in control.

This may be the most important thing I’ve learned as a writer. It’s what I would tell anyone who creates anything. Whether you’re writing a blog post, preparing a sermon or painting. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid who is making masterpieces out of stuff that’s lying around or whether you’re a  seasoned novelist who has written 20 New York Times’ Bestsellers.

You aren’t in control. And as soon as you realize that, the sooner you can start making some really great stuff.

Even when you come up with an idea. It’s not really your idea. Yeah, you were maybe the one who one who write it down or had an inkling to suggest something, but honestly that doesn’t mean it’s yours. Where did it come from? That’s what I like to call an elusive question. One that the more we attempt to answer, often the further we are from finding an answer.

Consider this in some ways, an elusive blog post.

When I write I often try and have some ideas or seeds ready to go. So if I’m out and about and I notice something or hear something or wonder something, I will jot it down. It doesn’t matter what it is or whether it fits into something that I’m already working on or whether it’s interesting to anyone else. If it hits something in me, I’ll make some sort of record of it. Maybe I’ll take a picture and make a note and reference it in Evernote.

I’ll usually give it a tag of some sort e.g. Elaine’s Freakout or Franco, General Hospital or Numb Slog.

Descriptions and tags that right now mean nothing, but someday may just be the missing piece of the jigsaw that I’ve been looking for.

Remember to make a note about whatever this thought that comes to mind is, even if it’s 3:25 in the morning. This is so important!! I’ve had ideas that I’ve thought were genius and I wouldn’t need to write down, disappear like a dream. There are foggy memories of having a great idea that become faint mirages. Something but now nothing.

I’ve thought of jokes in my sleep that I literally remember thinking I can’t wait to tell Britty this joke when I wake up and realizing the joke is terrible. Remind me to tell you my Brad Pitt joke next time I see you. brad-pitt-young

But it doesn’t matter. I wrote it down. It may come in handy someday, even if just to use in a blog post about how crap an idea it was.

Nothing is wasted. Everything is sacred to the writer.

Then maybe later I’ll be writing a blog post about a particular topic and I’ll review my tags and I’ll see if there are any interesting connections. Connections that if I was trying to intentionally arrive at, would never stick. But when my stance in the world is to be alert to what’s going on around me, you’d be surprised at the things that fit together eventually.

Also, it doesn’t have to be good. In fact, it should probably be really shit. That’s where the good stuff tends to come from. Another in fact; usually the things that you think are really great and are going to go viral, don’t get much response and the things you’re so embarrassed about sharing, resonate on some weird level with people.

The best ideas too, come from the least expected places. Often I do my best writing in the shower or sitting on the toilet. They common factor here is not some weird fascination I have with my bathroom but that it’s here that I’m often disconnected from my phone or my computer. Those things become a distraction where Twitter stops me from pondering and being in awe and just being silent.

The silence is where the best noise comes from.

I don’t understand it either.

Again, we’re not in control.

And that’s it really. Sure we need to actually sit down every single day and do the work. And sure, we need to edit it and maybe we can to learn to find our voice by taking a course. But the ideas, rarely come from simply trying harder.

And the more you do this, whether you’re any good at it or not, the more you’ll want to let go. The more value you’ll see in those frustrating days when everything you write is just BLeurgrhhgreathhgghhghsdgjh!!!!! It’s not a waste of time, it’s necessary. Like a good sculptor, our job is simply to chisel away until we find something that has been there all along.

We’re not creating it so much as we are discovering it and giving voice to it.

That’s the important work.

Because in there, when you least expect it, is where you find the great.

Books that changed my life: Having To Say Something Vs Having Something To say

This is a post on a topic that I haven’t spent a lot of time writing about of late but it is something that I have been pondering on a lot recently.

The question of creativity. The dreaded blank page.  Where to start. You’ve been there I know you have. I found a great book that has helped me immeasurably with this and I want to share some of what I’ve found in it with you.

The book is called “A Technique for Producing Ideas” by James Webb Young Ideas

Essentially there is one key aspect of James’s technique that has changed everything about how I look at creating.

If you are like me you are a procrastinator. You know the work you have to do but somehow you can’t bring yourself to actually sit down to do it.

It’s the age old question for anyone who has some sort of work to do. Do you..

Have to say something? Or..

Have something to say? (Thanks Rob Bell)

Is the task you face having to sit down and come up with a great inspiring blog post everyday, or writing a paper, or coming up with a book idea or having to think of a new sermon series because it’s due in a few days?
Or…. is the task you have, being so excited by an idea or a thought, by something that you noticed on a walk or something you read in a magazine or a sign you saw on your drive home that caught your attention or a picture that made you think about ‘that’ in a different light, or a story about someone giving their life for someone else which opened your eyes to a new way of thinking about generosity and what that means for your marriage, or a word which when you had the original meaning explained to you made you sit up and realize there was a whole new meaning to ‘this’?

So you made a note of it, or took a picture, or created a folder, or memorized it, or held it, or picked it up, or took it home and placed it on your mantlepiece.

Then after a while you began to discover how a few of these things that seemingly had no connection came together in a way that you couldn’t see coming. This connects with that, and that can be illustrated perfectly by that postcard you saw in the shop.

So when you go to sit down you’re not staring at a blank screen but bringing all these connections and ideas to the table, ready to surprise and delight us.

Are we hoping that inspiration strikes us every morning when we sit down to work or do we have an openness to the world where we are constantly being alert to those ideas or images or words that make us think, “that’s interesting”.

Maybe we use it or maybe we don’t. That doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it was enough in that moment to be of interest.

Editing comes later. Being aware and collecting begins now.

So that when the time comes to do the work, we’re ready.

So when we sit down to work, our blank white screen is already full of color.

Why I live Tweeted the Grammys

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Two nights ago, I did something that I have never done but always intended to and live tweeted an awards ceremony. On Sunday night, as I am sure many of you know, the Grammys took place and so I decided to join in with some of my favorite tweeters/bloggers/writers and have a bit of fun.

What’s the point of this you ask? Here’s a few reasons why I live tweeted the Grammys. Continue reading