Congratulations on reaching Friday. We’re going to celebrate with cocktails and potato skins out on the veranda, but first let’s sit and talk about something that has made eleven appearances in my inbox this week, only slightly more than my friend the Nigerian Prince and his genital enlarging cream he’ll share but only after I order a Russian bride and give her my bank account info.
I’m talking about the excuses people make to cover up the fact that they write. Or, in a sort of roundabout way, cover up the fact that they’re afraid they’ll be judged for writing. Now whether that judgment comes from friends, family, non-specific professionals, that weird lady who stands just a little too close to you in the checkout line, or whoever, I don’t know, but sometimes people hide what they’re doing, even if they love it, because they don’t want to be ridiculed or be told they’re wasting their time. To build this cover, they trot out some excuses and masks. Maybe you’ve heard some these…
I would write more but my kids have so much going on…
I would write more but I’m just so tired at the end of the day I just want to space out…
I would finish this book, but you know, life is just so busy right now …
I would finish this book, but it’s getting close to [INSERT SEASON HERE]…
I’d make time to write, but there’s just so many other things to do first…
I’ll write more when my kids [INSERT FUTURE EVENT/MILESTONE HERE]…
I’ll start that book when my husband [INSERT EVENT/ACTION HERE]…
I’ll start blogging next month…
Now, maybe there are legit reasons for that sentence being a thing you say. Maybe yes, your kids are super busy. Maybe yes, you work a grueling job that physically and mentally exhausts you to the point where sitting on the couch and staring at the television is the only relief from the crushing existence that is you right now. Maybe yes, like the $10 Founding Father, there are a million things you haven’t done. But, no, I don’t think you should just wait.
We talked support networks before, and I’d like to expand on that a bit. At the core, the bright center of your support network, should be the most trusted people you know. They’re the base. You confide in them, you care about them, you want them to do well and be well. By my reckoning, I’d call those people family. Do not let biology limit or constrain this notion, because you can transcend the gene pool, which may be useful if you’ve got some really unhelpful and unhealthy people sharing chromosomes with you.
So this supportive network needs a point of reference within your home, since it’s the place you’re supposed to feel the safest. Maybe for some people, that home is just a building you occupy temporarily (looking at you, college students) or maybe it’s not the “ideal” place (looking at you people living in an apartment while you wait to hear back from the bank about your credit and mortgages), but wherever you’re at, you need to build a firm root for that supportive web. For me, I get the majority of that online. The majority of my friends and family are hundreds of miles away from me, and so the bulk of our communication and support happens via text messages, emails, and social media. And while it’s difficult to maintain those relationships the same way I could if they were in the same building or even the same timezone.
But it’s not the distance or the separation that I’m talking about here. Despite the geographical space, we’re still in touch. We maintain that support network through whatever media available. And even via media, it’s still a supportive atmosphere.
The fear or shame about rejection or confrontation or chastisement or judgment isn’t really acted upon. I might feel really nervous telling my close friends how frustrated I am about a situation, thinking they’ll tell me, “John it’s no big deal, get over it,” but they don’t. They listen, they support, they encourage me to think and not give up. I might feel like they’ll be critical, but I won’t know if they will be or not until I take that action of telling them. And 99.999% of the time, the response isn’t critical (there was one time I got told I was doing something stupid, but that’s because I was doing something stupid.)
A support network isn’t a judgmental network. When you find a node of support that’s far more critical and judgmental and unjustly negative, it’s time to restructure the network and give that person the heave-ho.
Okay, sidebar over.
The fear is reasonable, I guess. I mean, it makes sense that you’d have doubts as to how something is going to be received. It’s the same sort of thing when you submit an MS for publication, because someone else is going to say or do something that you can interpret as evidence your time was either wasted or not. Sure, that makes sense, but that means you’ve also decided to let someone else have the ability to approve your choices and decisions. The important question remains: Did you feel or do you feel like writing is a waste of time?
Recently, a five-year-old asked what I did. My response of “I help people tell stories better” was not met with derision or a questioning about how viable that job is in this economy, I got an “Oh” and then he dashed off to play. He didn’t want to be critical, he just wanted to know what I did when I said I was working.
I could have danced around the topic, or gone over his head with some lengthy explanation of how language works, but that would have been boring and it would have been easier to just go straight at the problem. And really, even if he thought it was silly, would that stop me? Am I going to pack up all my books and tweets and go back to selling furniture and towels because someone thinks what I do is silly? They’re not the boss of me, last I checked. It’s what I want to do, I’m capable of doing it, I’d like to think I’m good at it, I enjoy doing it, so I’m going to do it .
The fear is only as big and as well-equipped as we make it to be. Yes, we might have all manner of problems, or disabilities, or obstacles, but being defined by them (or using them as rationalizations for NOT doing things, or putting them ahead of all else as your identity), isn’t going to help you get done what you want. If you want to go after that goal, pursue it in whatever means possible, by any means necessary. Your path to success isn’t going to look like anyone else’s, and that’s a good thing. It’s a challenge, but challenge is what we need for growth as human people beings.
So where does this fear come in? It’s the unknown. It’s the unknown in a new dress that isn’t entirely flattering. Like that time Aunt Mabel tried a maxi-skirt and just … no. Big no.
We don’t know how our stating our goals, plans, wants, desires, and dreams is going to be received, so we (thanks to conditioning, a few previous experiences and a lack of confidence) assume it’s going to go over about as well as a petting zoo at a child’s funeral.
But we don’t know how it’s going to be received. It’s Schrodinger all over again – well received and not well received or dead in a box at the same time.
With 50/50 odds, why not try?
And even if your enthusiasm isn’t reciprocated as you’d hoped, why let that stop you? It’s your time, you’re presumably not hurting anyone, you’re the boss of you, so go for it.
I’m not saying rejection or doubt from others doesn’t hurt or slow momentum or inject cloudy doubt onto your sunny day, but it’s up to you as to whether or not you let the clouds gather into hurricane season.
Axe your excuses. Rather than give up on your project, why not put your excuses to the curb? Yeah, I know, that sounds like ten bajillion times harder, but take a deep breath and give it a try. And no, don’t think about making an excuse for why you can’t get rid of your excuses about why you can’t tell people what you do or why you can’t go do it.
If you’re about to ask, “how?” the answer is this: Go do the thing you want to do and tell people about it.
This is a combination of accountability (people will ask you how it’s going, and having good news is better than making up a lie) and enjoyment (when you love what you do, you talk about it excitedly.) And by taking advantage of accountability, you can develop that discipline necessary to make progress. By taking advantage of enjoyment, you’ll get satisfaction from what you do, which will make you more likely to do it again, which will feed into more discipline, and more good stuff to talk about … and onward the cycle turns.
Try it for one week. And if you’re about to say you don’t have anyone to talk to, come tell me.
I’ll see you guys next week. Enjoy your weekend. Go do awesome stuff. Happy writing.