When I was in middle school, I spent a lot of time on the computer talking to online friends. Note that I didn’t say “friends online,” because to be frank, I was very awkward at 11 years old, and although I did have a close handful of friends at school, the majority of my socialization was done on the internet. On one pubescent afternoon, I had just finished an MS Paint doodle of what was likely a Neopet. (Side bar: I was embarrassed to love Neopets as a kid. The standards we bully ourselves are ridiculous sometimes; I was 11.) Desperate for a reaction, I opened AOL Messenger, sent a chatroom invite to two of my closest friends, and shared the file.
For brevity’s sake, I’ll just say that one of them also happened to be an artist, and the other one was not. The artist friend was very supportive; she pointed out what she liked about my rudimentary, pixelated efforts, and gave me gentle pointers about what I could improve on, if I were so inclined. The other friend, however, didn’t acknowledge the drawing. Instead, as I was afraid she might, she took the opportunity to turn the conversation onto herself: “I wish I could draw. You guys have no idea how lucky you are.”
Let me pause here to inject some empathy: I am fully aware of how discouraging it is to see the work of someone you feel is more talented than you, and then to base your self worth on that assessment. It’s basically half of what artists do. But middle school me, who had heard from this specific friend this same self-pitying rhetoric before, and whose words of encouragement (“Start practicing! Anyone can!”) had fallen on willfully deaf ears repeatedly, was fed up. I was trying to figure out how to convey frustration through a keyboard when the other artist friend beat me to it.
The gist of what was said in that chat 15 years ago was that complacency gets you nowhere. There gets to be a point of heartache you can reach, where you desperately want to stretch yourself into an area of temporary discomfort. I’m familiar with this pivotal liminal space, because it still haunts me in my other interests: needle-felting, painting, clarinet. The point though, is that each time you feel the heartache, you end up making a decision, whether you know it or not. You can continue to sit in stasis and let time swallow the desire down into your stomach again. Or, and this is the one that seems so unattainable that it nighs impossibility, you act.
Full admission: are there people out there who are born into this world and create masterpieces like they were designed for it? Uh, yes, Bernini sculpted The Rape of Proserpina when he was 23, and that’s totally unfair, yes. But it’s easy to see those things and say, “Guess I don’t have the predisposition to be great at this,” and drop it altogether. To anyone who feels that way a lot, think about it like this: do you stop social learning just because your aunt Claire is an amazing storyteller? Of course not. She’s not you. You’re you.
So, act. Don’t just buy materials to “prepare,” don’t spend weeks “researching” in preparation. This was something I had to brand into my brain in order to move past them: those stages are ghost productivity. They feel good, but when you go to bed, you haven’t done anything.
But taking that gut-dropping leap is different. You turn on a tutorial and follow along, even though you’re scared shitless. You put pen to page. You put a knife to wood. You burn the quiche, but you are one burnt quiche closer to being able to cook a non-burnt quiche. You’re going to be terrible at it at first.
“Why are you writing this blog post like a vindictive motivational poster?” I hear you asking. This is a reminder, to myself as much as anyone else who should need it. Don’t discredit your failures. And there are going to be a plethora of burnt quiches in your writing. Like, scads. I constantly think my own writing is terrible, but I’m doing it, ignoring the thought that some of you are reading this and thinking, “Who let this person have a blog, what the fuck?” Writing is a craft, a craft as valid as tattooing or leatherworking or the loom. You will improve if you push yourself and put the time in.
When you feel discouraged, please don’t stop writing. When you read an amazing book and it belittles your passion because the prose was so enrapturing, please don’t stop writing. You will get better. Please don’t stop. And it might not get easier if you continue to stretch, but the places you’ve tread before won’t prick your feet quite as harsh. Please, don’t stop writing.