How do you write something amazing, even if you’re totally terrified of the blank page?
This is a question that haunts many of us. We set out to write anything – a non-fiction book, a novel, a memoir, or even just an article – and 50%, 5%, or even 0.1% into the process we surrender. We give up. We look at what we’ve written, think that it’s awful, and never write anything again for the rest of our lives, ever.
Or at least, that’s what we predict is going to happen when we quit out of Microsoft Word out of disgust and binge-watch something on Netflix.
Regardless of what our reason is for thinking our work to be awful, the only guarantee that it won’t ever be something of value is if we quit and never return to it.
So what can we do about it? What are we supposed to do if we’re caught up in something that we think totally sucks?
Years ago, I joined tens of millions of other people who fell in love with Ken Robinson’s TED talk on how schools kill creativity. He tells a story of how a girl in kindergarten told her teacher that she was drawing a picture of God. When the teacher said that nobody knows what God looks like, the girl said, “they will in a minute.” The girl had no concern for what other people thought. The point that Ken made was that children are able to have a go at creating something even if there’s a chance it won’t be successful. Their success never even occurs to them.
With life comes adversity. And because we’ve had a lot more life than a girl in kindergarten, we’ve encountered a lot more adversity. And this adversity forms the basis of why we put ourselves down and question the quality of the work we put on the page before we’ve even written it. We tell ourselves a story that if we don’t create something of supreme value, we have created something awful. We have created something that makes us wrong to have even attempted to do it in the first place.
And so, the solution for overcoming the fear we have surrounding the blank page is, quite simply, to give ourselves permission to write something that doesn’t work.
Then, we must write that something that doesn’t work and revise it until it does.
Yes. I know. This is not a mind-blowing concept. Successful authors revise things all the time. But that’s just it – successful authors revise things all the time. They are successful not because they’re brilliant, but because they were willing to write something EVEN IF THEY KNEW IT WASN’T WORKING. Then, they went back and revised until it did.
The film writer and director Cameron Crowe was said to have written twenty drafts of Jerry Maguire over the course of three-and-a-half years, and that film earned Academy Award nominations for best screenplay and best picture. Similarly, many of us want to create a book that is worthy of being not only published but read. We want our work to be enjoyed by others – to be of value. But the only way we’ll ever create something of value in life is if we overcome the fear of being wrong. And we do this by giving ourselves permission to be wrong – to create something that isn’t working – knowing that we don’t have to show it to anyone until we’ve re-worked it several times over.
And then, when we’ve done all that we think we can do, we get the feedback of someone we can trust.
Then we start again.
Curious about whether to pursue a traditional deal or self-publish? Check out my cheat sheet here.