I had an epiphany last night while standing in the front yard urging my dog to poop.
I really hate not being good at something.
On the surface, that sounds like a good thing, but it’s not. At least, not for me. In actuality, it’s paralyzing. If I’m not good on the first try, I tend not to keep trying. While some folks might use that hatred of not being good to improve: studying, practicing, learning, I huddle in misery, bemoaning the fact that I’ll never be able to do calligraphy, regardless of how much I spent on books and pens.
Because that’s what I tend to do. Some new I want to pops into my head, so I go out to whatever store there is to buy all the materials I’ll need, plus bunches of instruction books. I bring them home and look at them. They look back. I try them out, cringe, and put them back in their packages. There they sit, collecting dust, staring at me accusingly until, years later, I drop them in the donation box to go out with the next pick up.
What the hell, I wonder, is wrong with me?
I can’t be alone in this, can I? Surely I’m not the only person with 27 how to quilt books sitting on her shelf who’s never made a quilt. Surely not.
It’s the same with writing, although I’m getting better at putting words to paper. I’m a little more confident in my writing skills than in my sewing. Or drawing. Or gardening. Or dog training.
Famous journalist Gene Fowler once said that writing was easy. You just stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. He wasn’t wrong.
Anne Lamott, a writer I adore, says the key to writing is to put your butt in the chair and write lousy first drafts (or words to that effect). Sounds easy, but it’s not.
It’s hard to be bad, to let myself be bad. I find myself focusing not on the words, but on their effect. I worry about what font the publisher will use, and if I’ll have lost weight in time for the television interviews. I have imaginary conversations with the actress who I know will be begging to play my protagonist on the big screen. I worry about which network will pick up the series.
Anything to not write that lousy first draft.
But hey! My poop-induced epiphany has given me hope. Now that I’m looking at my dysfunction, maybe I can change it. Maybe I can convince my self what my brain already knows: that if I keep trying at whatever it is I want to do whether it be writing or quilting, I’m likely to get better.
I may have to lock the doors and close the blinds to do it, but do it I will.
Gene Fowler is the author of Timberline. Anne Lamott’s newest book is Hallaluja Anyway.