If nothing is perfect the first time we do it, why should writing be any different?
I see the Writing as Talent myth at work in too many places. We writers love that myth for so many reasons, even while it pushes our writing dreams further away.
I’ve said this before. It’s worth repeating. That established writers love the Writing as Talent myth because it makes them the chosen. And new writers love the Writing as Talent myth because it’s an excuse to quit when the writing gets tough.
But the reality is that writing is a skill, not a talent. Great writers are great because they wrote through their shitty first efforts. And they got better.
Here’s proof. In an effort to expand my social media presence, I’ve been playing around on Instagram (@mandycorine). And rather than let Instagram become just another social media gig I flounder on because I could’t quite grasp the point (hello Facebook and Twitter), it made sense to fall in love with it first. That meant following accounts on Instagram that make me excited to spend time there.
But this isn’t a blog post on the merits of figuring out a social media channel before you start sharing your passions there. This is a post about the resilience artists need while they’re learning their craft. Artists who develop that resilience, not through hard work and determination, but through simple acceptance that their first efforts in their new art will not be luminously beautiful. This is a post about Jono Smart.
Jono Smart is a ceramic artists. I found Jono on Instagram (@jonosmart) through the gorgeous photos he takes of his creations: beautiful, simple, and useful objects like espresso cups, carafes, and vases.
What I love most about Jono, though, is his attitude toward his art. He wrote a post on Instagram recently—paired with one of those beautiful photos—that bridged the divide between our two arts. And that post transformed me into an instant fan and him into an instant hero. He said:
Learning pottery was the first time in my life I’d allowed myself to be really bad at something. To accept and enjoy the incremental growth, learning and improvement. I think that’s a really healthy way to spend time. I’m certainly still learning about pottery and I will be [my] entire life. But that’s not the same experience as being really bad and being happy with that.
What’s his message?
Enjoy these beginning moments you have with writing when you feel like everything you write is shit. These terrible first efforts are noting to shy away from. They are a badge of pride. The secret is that this splashing around when you first start is freedom. To make mistakes. To embrace the writing journey.
You’ll feel frustrated sometimes when the writing doesn’t go as planned. When it isn’t as beautiful on the page as it is in your head. Even that is okay. Feel frustrated. But love it anyway.
Jono missed these feelings of being new and bad at an art so much that he went looking for it again. On purpose. It led him to calligraphy. And he shared his first effort with pride.
“By the way, I know most of letters are terrible, but look at that ‘J’!” he said.
Can you imagine feeling that pride about the one word you got right in those otherwise shoddy first pages? That’s the kind of pride I want you to feel about your first draft. And your last draft. And all the drafts in between. I want you to marvel at the one lovely little J that turned out well even when the other ten letters “are terrible.”
This is what’s important to remember. That you’re doing well. Even when you were so scared to write last time you couldn’t face the page. Because here you are now, reading about how to overcome that next time. You’re exactly where you need to be. You’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. You’re trying. And in the end, that’s all that really matters.
You’ve heard of the growth mindset by now. You know that intelligence and creativity can be developed. You know that effort is the path to mastery. You know that trying is more important than doing because trying ensures success.
So keep going. Because the more you try, the more often you have a chance to succeed. This is simple math. And as we roll into a new year with all its new chances to try again, know that you will eventually “make it” with your art if you never stop trying.
You will make it so much so that, like Jono, you will come to miss that freedom and feeling of being new and terrible at something. You will come to remember the freedom you felt and the frustration you felt when you first started writing and wish you could go back and whisper to yourself to “keep going” and “you have no idea how close you are.”
Did you feel that? That little tremor? That’s the you who already knows whispering back to you. And you and I both know what you are saying.