Please Stop Waiting
Nora Ephron died today. She was amazing and I loved her work. She said on NPR 2 years ago, and I’m paraphrasing of course, but she said at some point you acknowledge that you don’t have all the time in the world and if you want to do things, experience something, eat a hotdog then do it and do it now. I’ve thought that way for years. None of us know what tomorrow will bring. There is no perfect time to start a baby, a family or to write a book.
Life will go on around you while you write. Or draw. Or sing songs. it will never stop. There will never be a day when your writing career starts. You do it daily among the chaos and you find that it creates order without you even knowing it.
Whenever I publish a book or manage to pull off a decent piece of artwork I tend to hear from people about their secret undone projects or “dabblings” in the written or painted worlds of creation. About their yearnings to do more. These tend to make me wince and feel a little pain in my gut. Please, I beg you, stop waiting to bring your art or your songs, poetry or whatever creations to the world. We need them, you need them, desperately.
I was once engaged to an Irishman from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Long story for a different time however what I remember best and most fondly about him, wait, no one gets to show this article to my current husband, dig? Ok so what I loved about Irishman is that he sang. It’s the same thing I love about my kinship foster father George. Singing. Unabashed, belt it out, for any reason at all – singing. They never stop to ask if they have great voices, they just sing. Irish folk seem particularly fond of that although I hear it happens in other countries as well. Not here. Not here in good old restricted repressed USA.
When was the last time you went to a bar and 10 or 12 people burst out signing a song? Or were shopping and heard someone singing in the aisles? Ask a person to sing and they’d almost rather yank out their kidney and hand it over to you in a grocery bag. “What? Me sing? Oh my God no, no way! I have a terrible voice!” Do you? Do you really have a terrible voice or did somewhere, sometime you get the message that it’s not ok to sing unless you’re a “singer”. Or sitting in church.
Is your voice maybe just rusty and tight from not being used? Could it be that if you stopped worrying about how you sound and just relaxed into song that you’d sound just fine? You’ll never know if you don’t open your mouth and cast off childhood judgmental nonsense that never belonged to you anyway.
My daughter taught me to sing. I had to sing to her, I had to get over the sound of my own voice and sing that baby lullabies. She taught me it was ok and she always smiled. She never said anything like, hey could you knock that yodeling off because I can tell you’re not a real “singer”. Then my friend Gray took it one step further and pushed me to public performing. Other friends supported me and encouraged me. It was terrifying and exhilarating and totally changed my life.
I pursued it until I realized I don’t like staying up late and am not really very fond of drunk people. Sort of rules out a career as a singer! I’m not a great singer. I’m ok. Some people like my songs, I used to sing at open mic nights with my guitar a lot, and some people really don’t like my songs at all. Who cares? It felt good to do it.
I find this same attitude with writing and drawing. Excuses that really are just something someone told you once upon a time that you should examine now so that you stop dabbling and start believing in yourself. “I’m not a real writer or a real artist. I just mess around.” I hear this a lot. Well who is “real”? The only “real” thing I know is that there is a whole world of hidden gems out there going into people’s graves because they aren’t bringing it out. Maybe the Velveteen rabbit is real but that’s about it. Real is what you define it to be. You. No one else.
Have you gone to a gallery lately? Guaranteed if you go you will see lots of art you like and plenty that you don’t and you’ll wonder if some of it was done with the artist’s feet. You’ll ask yourself, “How did this schmuck get this foot drawn mess in this gallery?” Well, the schmuck took the chance, that’s how. The schmuck thought I don’t care what people think I like this stuff so here you go gallery owner. He might have had to present it to 50 gallery owners before getting a yes but the point is the schmuck kept asking until he found a forum.
Think about it. No one could argue that Bob Dylan and Neil Young are awesome and beyond successful but let’s face it – they both sing like someone is strangling them and poking them with hot pointy objects.
The Twilight series was astoundingly successful and yes I read them. Twice. And I’m not ashamed! They were no Harry Potter for quality writing, I think we can agree on that but what if Stephenie Meyers had let doubt stop her? J.K. Rowling has it all over Meyer for skill but Stephenie has something too. And it appealed to millions. Who could’ve guessed?
You can do that too. I thought after my first book was published through a traditional publisher that I’d feel like a “real” writer. I didn’t. And now with book number 3, Post-it Note, I still don’t feel real. I still feel like a hack that throws impulses and fragments of imagination together, calls it good, and throws it to the winds of readers for the hell of it.
Post-it Note is not a great book. It’s small, it’s too concise, it’s undeveloped. I’ve received these criticisms on it as well as the other 2 books and that’s just fine. I like it. It’s enough and I got tired of thinking about it sitting in cyberspace going nowhere.
For everyone who doesn’t like it there’ll be one or two that do. It’s enough. It’s out there in the world and hopefully when I die will give my daughter and grandchildren (I will get some grandchildren right Morgan? Right?) something to point to and say well if Mom/Grandma can do it so can I.
And so can you. The only difference between a “real” writer and you is absolutely nothing. There are writers who are public and those who are not. That’s it. If you write, you’re a writer. If you draw or dream of drawing you’re an artist. Of course there are levels of mastery and expertise, things I dream of reaching some day. I know however that I’ll never master something that I don’t do.
I know that every book is a little better than the last. I’ll be 46 in November so barring a tragedy of some sort I figure at a book a year I should have time to get one really great book out there before I kick it.
I write daily even if it’s only in my journal or my mind even. I draw a little something daily if I’m not actively working on a commission or a project. More importantly I tell that rotten voice in my head, every day, that it’s full of shit. I argue back, I don’t believe (not always anyway) its lies that I’m a failure, that no one will ever like anything I do and these days I entirely resist the impulse to go down the “What’s the use?” trail of devastating thought.
If you’re a closet writer, a basement painter or a shower singer bring that stuff to light. I want to hear it, read it, see it. I know there are other people who do too.
Don’t let potential rejection stop you. You’ ll get rejection, it will hurt and you’ll get over it and keep moving forward. Plan on it and prepare for it so it doesn’t knock you down and keep you down.
Get feedback, do what you can to improve, take some classes or join a group but ultimately if you like your work you’re all the approval that’s needed. Take things step by step, ask questions, find successful people and study them like bugs under a microscope. Not too closely though or you could get a stalking charge but you know what I mean.
Do it. Go write that page, that poem that song. Go sing. Damn it, go eat that hot dog!