So don’t be so damn hard on yourself.
I’m not sure what I thought writing success would look like. Less doubt, greater certainty? I suppose less fear or worry too.
Shaunta Grimes and I chat a lot about our individual concerns with writing online. We each worry about things the other person doesn’t think we should even worry about.
And then I think about some of the biggest, best writers here. People like Ryan Holiday, Kris Gage, John Gorman, Niklas Göke, Jessica Wildfire, Ayodeji Awosika, Zat Rana and more. Do you know what I think about?
I think about them and realize that they’re just people. People who write. People like me and you. People who see themselves as pretty damn ordinary folks who also happen to write.
Clearly, I’m no world-renowned writer. My bylines? Yeah, they’re looking pretty slim. All I have is a measure of success writing on a website that’s allowed me to quit my job and dream that one day, there might be more. Like a book. Like success I can’t yet imagine.
I’m open to a lot of things.
I’ve only been writing for myself for what? Less than 18 months. An entire lifetime of wanting to write but wondering how finally gave way to legitimately putting in the effort. And it’s been a wild ride.
Right now, I’ve got some enormous dreams for my future career. Greater success feels a helluva lot more possible than at any other time in my life. And yet? I’m learning that self-doubt never really goes away.
Writing is seriously fragile work. It’s typically done alone without the certainty of reasonable pay or little things like healthcare. Or even shelter. Writing is a lot like shooting at the moon. We’re just exploring and discovering what might stick.
As readers and fellow writers, I think we tend to believe there’s some level of creative success where a creator will no longer have to worry. As great as that would be, I don’t see much evidence of such a thing. Likewise, many people seem to look at other writers and make a lot of assumptions about who they must be.
I’ve seen this on a small scale already. People who don’t really know me, or who don’t even know my work have a lot to say about who I must be. A lot of folks seem to think I just stumbled upon writing when it’s actually been a part of my life since I was a child.
But guess what…
Other people’s perceptions of who you are often don’t even come from your writing at all. They come from everything they think you ought to do. Or everything they feel compelled to do.
So, although writing seems like such straightforward work where we express ourselves with words, it gets muddled by those who interpret our words through their own filters.
And it’s only natural.
These days, I think I’m almost used to people calling me stuck up. Or talking about my “enormous ego.” At first, it was alarming to find out that strangers or even online friends believed I was somehow so nefarious, but after a while, I realized they weren’t even talking about me.
And they’re not talking about you, either.
Online critics who try to take jabs at a writer’s work aren’t really talking about anyone in particular — even if they use your name. They’re talking about their personal expectations and perceptions. They’re talking about smoke and mirrors.
When you look at the people who are doing (seemingly) better than you, it’s easy to do one of two things — to draw blood or diminish them. That’s why people poke holes in or around their work anyway.
“Oh, them? They’re not so great. They don’t care about anyone but themselves. They don’t even respond to their emails.”
People judge writers every single day for not doing something. And usually, it boils down to criticism for not being available 24/7. Maybe it’s just human nature to assume we’d do better in their shoes. And maybe it’s natural to look at another person’s success and assume they have nothing to worry about.
Natural, but hardly helpful. Normal, but not exactly real.
All I do is write on a website, and I’ve been doing it for nearly 18 months. I’m not winning amazing awards or accolades, yet I’ve tasted enough success to learn that our perceptions of another person’s achievements are rarely honest.
And I’ve learned how easy it is to drown in guilt whenever we seem to fail another person’s expectations of us. But here’s what I know now: we can’t be true to ourselves and our work when we are worried about making everyone happy. We can’t write openly or honestly when we’re weighed down by expectations.
I already knew some of these things as a woman on the autism spectrum. I don’t do all of the things that society thinks I should do. To be perfectly honest, I can’t even try. To a large extent, writing is the same way. Nobody should be driving themselves crazy to fulfill anyone else’s ideals for a perfect artist.
If you want to write, and are lucky enough to enjoy any measure of success, keep in mind that people will have a lot to say about you. And sometimes, it might be tough to not take their comments to heart. But the reality is that there’s not a lot of reason to take any of that stuff personally.
You’re not who they think you are. There’s a damn good chance that you think you’re pretty ordinary while they’re giving you some serious side-eye because they’re a little intimidated by you.
In the end, you’re allowed to let your work speak for itself.