Unwritten: Overcoming Fear and Doubt
You know that feeling when you first discover something and that something new-to-you suddenly appears everywhere? It happens to me a lot with words, the once unfamiliar expressions jumping from each subsequent page I read or floating through the air, only to rap on my eardrums.
Lately, I’ve felt that way about writing.
Every film or TV series I’ve recently watched portrays a female protagonist striving to fulfill her dream of becoming a writer or a journalist: Jane the Virgin, Someone Great (incidentally, also starring Gina Rodriguez), even A Christmas Prince—though I’ll deny to my grave ever having seen it.
My desire to be a writer is not novel—pun intended. My mom would likely insist it all began when I created a series called Detective Anne about a young (you guessed it) gymnast (jk) who solves the mystery of a lost litter of puppies.
That was just the prologue. I scribbled short stories, poems, and two novellas, albeit unfinished—one, Spilt Milk, forever lost to the bowels of an ancient, clunky laptop whose battery betrayed me. I turned school notebooks into journals and napkins into notepads. Later, MySpace—yes, I’m fully aware I’ve aged myself—then Facebook statuses became my outlet to craft anecdotes both moving and comical.
All that changed when it came time for college. A seed of doubt rooted in my mind, nourished by those echoing, and thus giving credence to, my fears. That writing was a hobby, not a profession. That I couldn’t learn or pursue it as a career the same way my brother could engineering. That, unless you’re the crème de la crème, writing was neither lucrative nor pragmatic.
So, I enrolled in business school and declared a major in management information systems: roughly translated, snoozefest. It wasn’t until end of sophomore year, as I half-heartedly pieced together code in Visual Basic, that my reality-check moment struck. That afternoon, I transferred out. (Cue Grease’s less popular remix, “Business School Dropout.”)
After graduation, the fib festered unhindered. I did what any sensible (read: self-sabotaging) human would, and I convinced myself that writing was merely a diversion. I condemned myself to watching others excel at the thing I wanted to do most—and worse, I resented them for it.
I started to see “what could be” in everything. The actors on-screen mocked me, like that slanderous squawker in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Believe it or not—please don’t; it’s too embarrassing—I found myself envying those fictitious characters living. my. truth.
I felt the misery most at night, while partially tucked under the covers with my overly flatulent puppy at my side and a good book in hand—each page-turner authored by a real twenty- or thirty-something woman living her best life. (Side note: If you’re interested, my favorites hands-down were Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover and Places I Stopped on My Way Home by Meg Fee, respectively. 10/10 highly recommend.
Cognizant that I was dwindling in a toxic work environment, my former boss slash mentor one day put me in touch with his friend and editor in charge of the lifestyle section of a local newspaper. Gauging whether or not I possessed any chops, the editor sent me on assignment to a speakeasy for the Last Call section and bid me “happy drinking.” So, I drank. And I wrote a snarky review.
And then? The stars aligned. The heavenly hosts sang “alleluia.” Mercury ceased to be in retrograde.
In other words, none of that happened… But, the editor did offer me a regular spot on the column. My spunky friend started referring to me encouragingly as Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. And I put in my two weeks notice as the author of my own misfortune. Since then, I’ve been regularly contributing articles to the paper.
In Set It Up—yet another flick featuring a millennial woman struggling to be a writer (no shade; that’s #goals)—Harper is so paralyzed by fear of failure that she settles for a job as a glorified errand girl to a successful sports editor. Luckily, Harper’s friend, Becca, pulls her out of a doozie of a self-destructive funk with this:
Harper: “I’m bad at this. I’ve been trying to write the same article for months, Becca, and it’s so bad, I can’t finish it!”
Becca: “Of course your first draft is gonna be bad. It’s gonna be terrible! But you know what you do, Harper? You go back and you make it better. But you can’t make it better until you actually do it. You’re not a bad writer yet. You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself and just write something bad.”
It’s like what romance novelist Jodi Picoult said: “You can't edit a blank page.”
Consider this the kick-in-the-pants you need from a no-nonsense “Becca”—because we all need a friend like her who will unabashedly call us out on our bullshit and, in the same breath, be our strongest advocate and hype woman (or man). Try that new thing that’s been occupying your mind. Take a chance on yourself.
Not long ago, a consultant trained on the Strengths Finder test addressed me and my coworkers about properly identifying and utilizing our strengths at work. She claimed our strengths are aligned with our job when we’re able to perform our work with ease, excellence, and enjoyment.
Can I get an “amen”?
You can’t edit a blank page, just like you can’t know what will work out or not until you give it a go. IMHO, #adulting means constantly going to war with yourself, choosing between what you want to do and what you think you should do—and striving to strike a balance between the two. So often we err on the side of caution and steer as close to practical as possible because we feel the pressure of others’ expectations. In the end, though, who suffers?
While I’ve taken a few steps toward doing what I want, that doesn’t mean I suddenly have everything figured out. Life, after all, is a highw—er, constant learning opportunity. But it does mean I’ll trust my instincts in the future, and I’ll certainly not deny myself any more chances at pursuing what makes me happy.
So, I’ll keep scrawling and jotting and we’ll all keep contemplating our place in this crazy universe and taking it one day at a time. In the immortal words of Natasha Bedingfield, “Today is where your book begins // The rest is still unwritten.”
Windrose Magazine is your guide to navigating life in your twenties through a collection of essays, interviews, and advice that will inspire you to chart your own life course, free of comparison.
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