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)

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutions
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

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.

You’re going to fail.

The bigger your audience becomes or the more comments your received on your last post or the more retweets your tweets got, the more people will disagree with you.

You’ll get more haters too and people who never seemed interested in your work before will come out of the woodwork and tell you every single thing you are doing wrong. They’ll probably not be very nice about it either.

You have two choices as I see it.  Continue reading

How being lazy helped me write more.

I haven’t written a blog like this in a while. One in which I lay out in a carefully detailed plan how I am so creative and able to construct sentences that produce such strong emotions in people that they can’t but help themselves to a click on their twitter share button. Or maybe just go “meh”!

But recently I have discovered something in how I write that may or not be helpful to you. I discovered that when it comes to many things I can be pretty lazy. I can procrastinate like no other. But I think I have found a way to make my laziness work in my favor.

Let me explain.                                                       

If I am lying upstairs on my bed watching the latest episode of Portlandia or Hannibal  and I realize I have left my phone downstairs, those stairs become a mammoth trek of survival and self discovery and to be perfectly honest my bed is pretty comfy and cosy so forget that. Or if I have chocolate and I want to eat it but at the same time I don’t want to eat it, I will simply put it into Britt’s drawer on her side of the bed. Again, a matter of feet becomes a hundred mile journey and that will be enough to resist the tempting lure of chocolate. 

Yes, I’m that lazy.

Also, American chocolate’s not that great.

So I got to thinking how this could work in my favor when writing. When I sit down to write I come face to face with procrastination or resistance as Stephen Pressfield calls it. The internet is my resistance. I will check my emails accounts, then check a couple of online communities that I am part of, then Facebook and then Twitter. A whole two minutes later and I will repeat the process. Unsurprisingly, not enough has changed in the world in that time to warrant such excessive checking.

Thankfully I have a new system in place. I have two online productivity tools that I will tell you about in a minute which have saved my life.

But first, what is my real problem? Is it laziness or something else? Well actually, I think it is both.

I love to write. I even want to write. I wake up some mornings and have the insatiable desire to write. Then I try and nothing really happens and I click refresh. That’s on a good day. But what this tells me is that there is something worth pursuing here and it’s worth fixing. So I ask myself, what if I didn’t have the internet?

What if I am upstairs and I didn’t have the internet to tempt me from writing? Well as I have established I am pretty lazy so even if I am upstairs without the internet I am unlikely to go looking for something downstairs. My problem is not so much that I don’t want to write but that when faced with the choice of writing or doing anything else, I will choose almost 100% of the time, something else

So I remove the internet.

Now before anyone starts panicking, don’t worry you still have access to FB and Twitter and can still send me countless annoying farmville invites.

But I block the internet for myself. Using these two great tools. Leachblock for firefox and Waste No Time for Safari. They’re both amazing and have literally saved my life and helped with a few writing deadlines. I can block the internet for specific time periods everyday. Sometimes I purposefully leave my phone downstairs do I don’t have the distraction. Sometimes I tell myself that I need the internet for research but usually that’s a sneaky way of saying I need to see what kind of things are topical so I can write about them. But that’s not good for anyone, believe me.

There’s always an excuse.

So with a double tag team of laziness to go somewhere else and the removal of options to distract me, I can get to work. Removing any other options leaves me wanting and able to write and I can feel like I have worked. Which helps me feel good, which motivates me next time I need to write.

Sometimes I need to get out of the house to write but even then I’m too lazy to go home and so end up writing more.

Maybe you’re not as lazy as me and that’s ok. I don’t judge you. Be thankful that you aren’t like me.

For the rest of us though, lazy is OK. It can be your friend and can be used to your advantage. Resistance is sneaky but you can be sneakier.

So get writing, or building, or creating. Whatever it is you do.

Just be lazy.

 

Being unemployed.

indexSince moving to Detroit in November I have been unemployed. For the first few months this was ok. Britt and I had saved before we came and we very generously helped out by family here and back in Ireland. Britt has since found a job and we are still not starving.

We were getting used to our new life, me for the first time living in the USA and for Britt, the first time since she was 18 (She’s now 24).

We knew it was the right thing for us to do and we knew that we would miss people terribly. The first couple of months though were easy and we both, despite missing folk and our church community, were enjoying getting used to new things. Like access to Chillis anytime we want. Or a million different varieties of pop tarts.

In the last month or so however I think we both hit a wall when it came to being here. We weren’t sad that we were here or regretting the move, instead we began to miss our home in Ireland very much.

People, family, Belfast, decent pints of Guinness. (Although I suspect that’s just me).

Before we left I struggled with the job that I had and believed that I was made to do something else. I got very comfortable and didn’t really try and get out of it. I had a regular income, Britt and I never starved and I was probably too frightened to step out. As a result of my job I also had some issues with my self worth. I looked down on myself because I thought that others would look down on me too. Simply because of the job I held or where I imagined other people my age were in their lives. Facebook can be a killer in this respect. Rather than motivating me to look for something else, it actually made me more and more afraid. So I stalled and stayed where I was.

Two things then, that I have learned from the past few months being unemployed.

1. Just because I didn’t have a job I went to everyday didn’t mean I couldn’t work. Other than the obvious and tedious job hunting, I have spent the time writing more consistently than I ever had and I have been reading more. I decided to teach myself coding and I have thrown myself into the work I do with xxxchurch and x3groups. Yeah, there have been times where I have gotten cabin fever but if I don’t have a job I still have a choice. I can still work.

2.  Before the move, my self worth was based on the job I had. This wasn’t really my self worth though. My self worth wasn’t my job but rather what people thought of my job. Even then, that wasn’t the end because it wasn’t so much what people thought of my job, but what people thought of me. Admittedly most of this was probably in my head and my own insecurities. I imagined that if I felt this way about myself then others must to.

The longer we have been here and the longer I have been unemployed here those insecurities have started to creep into being unemployed. The embarrassment in having to tell people I still haven’t found a job. Or maybe that too is all in my head.

But the big lesson I have learned from these last few months isn’t so much to do with my job or lack of but with where I place my value.

Where I get that deep inner peace. Do I get it from a job or do I get it from something higher? Am I liked because I have a job that looks good?

These are questions I have struggled with and in doing so have come to the conclusion that if I place my value in those things then I will always be left disappointed. Instead when I start to place my value in my inherent worth because I am loved, I have found that less and less I measure my value by what people think of me.

It actually doesn’t matter what people think of me one way or another. I can release myself from the pressure of finding the perfect job because no longer is that an indicator of my value. I can stop forcing myself to act a certain way around people because their affirmation is not what gives me life.

When I do this I realize that there is more to life than constantly arguing with myself that my life is worthwhile through others opinions. Ironically, it is that type of attitude that drains life from me.

So maybe for you it’s your job or your looks or how smart you are. It could be the successes or failures in your life that shape how you see yourself.

My prayer for you is that you see yourself as someone who is worthy of being loved. Simply because you are you. Because you were created with beauty. Not because of what you do.

It’s a simple prayer that takes guts and work.

Thankfully though, your work isn’t the whole you.