On Insecurity and Writing
A good friend mentioned he’d write more often if he dealt with his insecurities about writing.
I look at this differently.
All writers are insecure: they have doubts and fears that never go away. Kafka didn’t want any of his books published, and lived with perennial doubts about his talents. Fitzgerald and Hemingway both despaired about the quality of their current projects, whatever they were, afraid their new works wouldn’t measure up to their last (despite feeling this way about their previous works too). Talk to any creator while they are creating and insecurity is everywhere. Will this work? Is this the right choice? Should I cut this or make it bigger? Insecurity is part of the deal, as the act of making something means you have to find your way as you go.
Anyone who creates anything has an endless game of ping pong between confidence and fear going on in their minds. And although one might score an ace or a slam, neither ever wins, it’s an endless game. Complete confidence creates shitty work, and complete insecurity ends work altogether. Both confidence and fear are needed and must be lived with, not eliminated. Experience with creativity means familiarity with this process, not an avoidance of it. Fear is an asset if you use it as fuel for your fire, rather than a way to smother it, or as an excuse for never starting it in the first place.
Writing is hard. Painting is hard. Competing at sports is hard. Everything interesting is hard. The risk of failure is what makes the challenge interesting. Take away any chance for failure, which you’d need in order to feel completely secure, and you take away motivation.
I say choose to do it anyway. So what if it’s bad? So what if no one likes it? So what if you read it and don’t like it yourself? So what so what so what so what. SO WHAT. At least you will have done it and can decide not to do it again. But to spend hour after hour just thinking and talking and torturing yourself about something you don’t do, while pretending, based on little study of the craft, that there is a magic way to avoid all the hard parts no other productive maker has ever avoided, is beyond arrogant – it’s mad.
It’s okay to be insecure. Just be insecure about something you are actively making, instead of being insecure about some imagined reality that will never exist if you don’t sit down, shut up and get to work.
“Everything interesting is hard. The risk of failure is what makes the challenge interesting.”
Love this! Trying new things in my life right now and this post was perfect motivation and inspiration. Thank you for sharing it. Lisa-
I’ll second that Lisa. This is the shot in the arm I was waiting for.
“Just be insecure about something you are actively making”
I wish more people would do this. It took me ages to dare to put something on github and to write some blog posts.
I also wish that people who review books and music would consider the people behind it before hammering their work. I know that it’s probably fun to write a really bad review, but you might want to be a bit more constructive in your criticism.
To paraphrase my old acting professor, “There are two kinds of writers: those who are insecure and those lie about it”.
Nice post, Scott! I’d add that anything worth pursuing is going to be hard. To put it simply, there is no easy way when it comes to things worth doing.
Excellent post, bro!
I realize you are talking about writing more generally here, but I wanted to mention a recent study (mentioned in yesterday’s NYTimes) showing that Blogging May Help Teens Dealing with Social Distress, which suggests there may be therapeutic value in writing in public and opening up to comments.