What It Takes To Be A Writer (Or Any Kind of Creator)
My life as a writer started around the age of eight, when I wrote and illustrated my first ‘book’. That’s also when the anguish of being a writer began. To my critics (two older brothers and a younger sister), the poorly pasted notebook pages of rhyming poetry and wax crayon drawings just didn’t cut it. I guess such memorable lines as: “I went to the sea, I got stung by a bee,” did not do much to inspire the imagination of 12 and 16 year-old boys. They shredded it to pieces. Literally. They tore the pages and dumped the crumpled lot into the bushes around our house.
And that’s when I learned that although you may be proud as pie to have thought up, written and given life to what you consider a masterpiece, others might not feel the same way.
The moment an artist, writer or creative is born is the moment the left-brained world begins a movement against them to quiet their voices, shut down their art, and sabotage their self-expression.
It’s not malicious, they’re protecting themselves against the incomprehensible.
That didn’t stop me from writing though. It just made me hesitate every time I wrote and considered sharing my work. Would my writing elicit applause or derision? Would people laugh at my work and discard my ideas? Or would I shoot to fame because of my originality? (Spoiler alert: neither happened.) And most importantly, does it really matter? Since then, I’ve yo-yoed between not caring, and caring very much. That doesn’t ever go away.
As writers, we continue to write because we can’t stop writing. How can we not care when we pour our heart and soul out in public for everyone to see? We write because we have an overwhelming need to express ourselves, and we share our work because we want to connect with others (or is it vanity? A desperate cry of ‘Listen to me!’?).
Although I went on to study science and engineering as an adult (ha!), my writing life continued in parallel. After the book-shredding episode, I continued to write stories and poems, then started a journal in my teens. In my twenties, that journal turned into a blog and at thirty, I transformed the blog into my first book. Throughout, I tried hiding my work, but the thought of sharing always reared its head. I wanted people to hear what I had to say. It was that simple.
I’ve been writing all my life and I’m still learning to be a writer; to get comfortable calling myself a writer, to find the discipline and the support I need, to acquire the skills and hone my craft, to find my niche and to learn how best to get my work out into the world.
I once heard a ridiculous statistic like 90% of people want to be writers, but in actual fact, less than 1% of them actually do. I’m guessing they meant published writers. How many write and never share their work? Five percent? Ten percent?
The Creativity Math
You see it takes a lot more than thinking about writing, or creating or starting a business, or anything really, than just the thought. I once told my students that an idea is like a fart in the wind (that embarrassed them – and made me giggle). You can’t capture it. You get a whiff, then it’s gone. To give an idea currency, it needs a physical form, and often, to give an idea physical form requires a lifetime of effort.
Teresa Amabile, a researcher at Harvard, pinpointed three areas that need to overlap in order for creativity and innovation (and I claim entrepreneurship) to happen. You have to have:
- Skill: A basic level of competency in the area you are creating (writing skills, business or technical skills, drawing skills, etc… you get it.
- Mindset: You have to be able to handle the heat that comes with the pudding. Uncertainty, potential for failure, stress resilience, etc.. you have to have an attitude that supports not sabotages you.
- Motivation: You have to ‘want’ to do it. You can’t be a writer because it sounds cool, you can’t be a musician because secretly you want to have long hair and sing rock ‘n roll bare-chested to adoring fans, and you can’t start a business because Daddy wants you to. The motivation can totally be money – I’m not talking passion here – but you have to want it badly enough to break through all the barriers.
Is there a creator inside you longing to get out? Check back into the depths of your being, is there a lonely writer or artist sitting in a cold dark corner craving an audience and a voice? Or have you always thought of starting a business but still find yourself crippled by fear and uncertainty? Look back at that list of three and ask yourself, what’s missing? And what do you need to do to acquire the necessary ingredients to design a life you crave?
Why haven’t you written/created/launched yet?