I became a creativity mentor and writing coach because of a conversation with another writer in my 20’s.
I was making inroads in my career as a professional screenwriter but struggling mightily with my confidence when another writer said to me, “Maybe you aren’t really a writer because it’s so hard for you. Writing is so easy for me, I just can’t stop doing it.”
Or maybe I became a creative encourager because of the screenwriting teacher who told me I didn’t have the talent?
Or the friend who said I would never publish a book? Or another friend who, after The Woman’s Comfort Book was published, said I would never sell any copies.
Sometimes the ways others crush our creative desires are more subtle, like the story Ren relayed in the Oasis recently, and gave me permission to share:
“Over ten years ago I bought myself a screen to make paper. I mentioned to a friend of mine (we’d worked together on books – my poetry, her drawings) that I wanted to make paper. I was going to make broadsides. She said: ‘Oh, I met paper artists in Japan last year, these people spend lifetimes studying the art of making paper.’ I was so shamed by her comment I never even tried to make paper.”
Whether someone says directly, “You don’t have what it takes,” or they imply “it’s too late” or “who do you think you are?” or they demean what you want to explore because you can’t immediately earn money at it”, the effect is usually the same:
You shrink. You stop. You hide.
The pure outrage I feel imagining this happening to you, whether it was when you were a child or a young adult or yesterday, makes me want to stand on my roof and scream until my throat is raw.
There are many reasons people say hurtful negative crap, and it has nothing to do with us and everything to do with their fears, their hurt places, their trauma and their unexpressed creativity.
But Jen, what if I do suck? What if they are right?
Listen to me: there is no right when it comes to creativity. There is only opinion.
And that opinion might be one you need to reckon with, to get a gatekeeper to say yes. Just know their opinion is not fact. It says nothing about your future and it certainly says nothing about who you are as a person. This is crucial to understand for your longevity as an artist.
And so what if you do suck? I wasn’t a very good writer when I started, and everything was harder because of my learning disability. My first book was not well-written. Even though it has sold the most of all my nine books.
There are so many variables when it comes to success and fulfillment as a creative, and talent is the least of them. Instead of focusing on talent, I learned to ask myself what writing teacher Barbara Baig offers, “The question is not ‘Do I have no talent?’ The question is, ‘Am I willing to find out whether I really want to do this?’”
Or as writing teacher Jack Grape puts it, “Talent is your biggest obstacle.” Because talent is all about magically arriving at your destination, hair perfect, teeth gleaming, crowds adoring, money flowing.
Talent is a grifter who will steal your life while you wait to be discovered.
Questions of talent and “do I suck?” are the dominant culture, your emotional immune system, and your past experiences trying to keep you small and safe and hidden.
So what if you suck? Are you willing to learn? Are you willing to experience what you truly want from your creative life and honor it?
Next week I’ll talk about how to do triage when someone runs over your creative heart with their negativity and judgment.
But for now, ditch the talent and the do-I-suck conversation, tell the naysayers to shut the hell up, and ask yourself, “What do I really want to create?”