As I compose
my 200th blog, I wonder how on earth I keep finding things to say. Or if what I have to say is valuable. But I’ve learned along the way that value is in the eyes of the creator and it reflects how much we treasure ourselves. I’m committed to regarding my thoughts and ideas as valuable as anyone else’s and I take pride in having learned how to express myself. But that doesn’t mean that everything I do is going to be great.
I usually have no idea what I’m going to say about when I sit down at my computer. I just start writing and more often than not, I have a false start. I begin with an idea, it doesn’t pan out, I delete it and I start again. And again. I do the same thing with each chapter when I’m writing a book. It’s not about how good I think it is or how smooth the transitions and word usage. It’s not about comparing it to what anyone else is doing. And it’s not about what people will think or who will read it. It’s about getting something on the page that doesn’t suck. Then I have the chance to take it from mediocre to good and
hopefully, as I keep working on it, it will become something I really like.
When I get hired to edit a manuscript, no matter what shape it’s in, I admire the writer for simply doing it. It’s such a huge undertaking to write a book. It’s difficult to begin and its an heroic task to finish it. When someone says, “I think I ought to write a book. What do you think?” I tell them, “Great idea. Do that and let me know how it goes.” It’s like the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”
One of the most challenging obstacles to all forms of creativity is fear of mediocrity but you can’t let that stop you. We’ve all heard about artists painting over and over their initial sketches. In the same way, if you don’t get something, anything, on the page, how will you make it better? I know a writer who was inconsolable after he read William Styron’s “Sophie’s Choice.” He was so moved by it, he was too intimidated to pick up his own pen. “My stuff is so bad,” he whined. “Styron just did it perfectly so why even try?” My friend’s negative self-judgments robbed him of the opportunity to be inspired and catapulted into the next phase of his own greatness.
We all do mediocre work at times, especially when we start something new, but we have to learn to embrace it as an unavoidable rung on the ladder to success. When you do anything challenging, it often starts so poorly, mediocrity is a step up. Author Annie Lamott says, “I know some very good writers and not one of
them writes elegant first drafts.” We, the readers, don’t get to see those first drafts. We read a book after it’s been edited, rewritten and edited some more, with no idea about the mountain the author had to climb to get to the finish line.
If you’re willing to take the steps, one by one, toward your goal, you just might end up creating something wonderful. If you’re not willing, your chances dissolve. I know a woman in her sixties who is in great shape physically, her mind is keen and her instincts are sharp, but as she gets older, she gets less experimental and more rigid. “Why don’t you learn to play the guitar?” I asked her once when she was complaining that she felt uninspired. “You love guitar music and you told me you wish you’d learned to play an instrument when you were young. Why don’t you start now? It’s never too late.”
“I can’t tolerate being bad at anything at this stage in my
life,” she explained.
What a missed opportunity. If you have something to say or paint or compose, do it or it’ll die on the vine and you’ll never see the reflection of your creativity and love in someone else’s eyes. Imagine how many great stories, books, paintings, operas, plays, ballets or films languish in someone’s mind, in the back of a closet or gather dust on a bottom shelf somewhere, never seeing the light of day because he or she was afraid of being mediocre. When you stop expecting perfection from yourself and accept mediocrity as a necessary part of the creative process, you’ll be amazed at the beauty, creativity, and inspiration that lives deep inside of you, just waiting for you to coax it out into the light.