You worry that you’re not talented enough. You’re not a natural writer. In fact, writing has never come easily to you. Maybe most things haven’t. You don’t have an MFA. You didn’t even minor in English in college. Your photography skills are subpar. You didn’t go to art school. You feel like an impostor, a fraud, a phony. And you second-guess yourself. All. The. Time.
In other words, whatever your chosen creative pursuit, you don’t feel good enough to pursue it. You feel unworthy. You feel unsure. Maybe you compare yourself to others in your field, to other people you’re convinced are sincerely talented and amazing and actually good enough.
On her website author Kate DiCamillo recounts the following story: As a junior in college, she penned a 500-word essay for her expository writing class. DiCamillo wrote about a brief interaction she had the night before the assignment was due. While walking into a grocery store, she walked past a woman holding a tambourine who sat atop a bag of dog food and asked DiCamillo for change. The woman sang a song about a “smug old moon,” and DiCamillo included the lyrics. In her essay, she also described everything from the woman’s broken purple-painted nails to her blue eye shadow. She wrote that she sat on the dog food as though she were sitting on a throne.
A week later her instructor read it out loud to the class because, he said, the essay included something extraordinary. It wasn’t the writing, he clarified. It was something else, which spoke to the essence of great writing (perhaps the essence of most crafts).
“The person who wrote this actually took the time to see the person she was describing. That’s what writing is all about. Seeing. It is the sacred duty of the writer to pay attention, to see the world.”
I love what DiCamillo writes next: “I cannot control whether or not I am talented, but I can pay attention. I can make an effort to see…[E]ach time you look at the world and the people in it closely, imaginatively, the effort changes you. The world, under the microscope of your attention, opens up like a beautiful, strange flower and gives itself back to you in ways you could never imagine. What stories are hiding behind the faces of the people who you walk past every day? What love? What hopes? What despair?”
Trying to figure out whether we’re actually good writers or good poets or good painters or good photographers or good _______ is exhausting. It’s stressful. It’s frustrating.
And all that judging and criticizing takes time away from what counts: the work. As Dani Shapiro writes in Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, “My job is to do, not to judge.”
Acknowledge your self-doubts. Acknowledge their effect on you. Then refocus. Refocus your attention on the world, on your surroundings. Refocus your attention on sunsets and strangers, on loved one’s faces, on tonight and tomorrow’s stars, on maple-syrup-soaked pancakes and how stained glass windows paint the wall in your home with rainbows. Because when we focus on the doing, on the writing, on the painting, on the picture-taking, we really can’t go wrong.
Focus less on what your inner critic says—and more on everything else. Because when you do, it’s amazing the things you’ll see.