Today I’m giving a craft talk to a teen writing group at the Jefferson County Open School on behalf of the Lighthouse Young Writers Program, and my talk will include one simple revelation that I’d like to share with all writers, with all creative people actually. It starts like this:
I talk to a lot of people about creative writing, and two things that I hear a lot always give me pause:
1) Many people who’ve never in their lives written a story, unless it was assigned by a teacher, tell me, “You know, I’ve always wanted to write a novel (or a memoir).”
2) Many people who write all the time tell me they fear the blank page, or they have writer’s block, or they can’t figure out how to write what they want to write.
With group #1, at first I’m tempted to tell them to shut up and go away. Sometimes I take it too personally, as if they’re trivializing how much hard work and dedication it takes to write literature. Then I realize that many of them are simply sharing a fantasy, the way I might fantasize about being twenty years younger and single and having a chance with Jake Gyllenhaal—even though it’s never gonna happen. I also realize that a few of them might actually be ready to dive into the many hours of reading, study, and practice that it will take to become experts in a new craft. So in the end, I simply tell them to go for it.
I’m guessing that group #2, the group that sometimes suffers self-doubt, probably includes all writers at some point or other, at least those who are passionate and dedicated to doing the hard work it takes to create something unique. Doesn’t that apply to most fields, if we’re doing our jobs well? If you’re in that group, here’s what I want to tell you the next time you worry you won’t be able to get the idea in your head onto the page (or whatever medium you work in):
It’s your story, so it’s not possible for you to tell it wrong!
You might have to rewrite many drafts, you might have to edit like crazy, you might even have to start over, but so long as you’re willing to do the work you can’t screw it up – because it’s yours. Nobody else can tell your story. Only you. Whatever story you end up with, even if it’s not what you initially imagined: it is the right story. So do yourself a favor, don’t ever run away from the story inside you that wants to be told, that’s screaming to get out, even if you’re not sure you can do it. Truth is: you’re the only one who can.