I looked up the word arrogance before writing this post, just to make sure I had selected the correct word. I’m not convinced it’s the right word, but I can’t think of one better so here we are. When I started believing I could write about my experience working in prison, I knew (intellectually) it would be a challenge. Although I have extensive experience in technical and business writing, curriculum development, reflective and academic writing, I have ZERO experience in creative fiction, nonfiction, or memoir. I knew I was venturing into unknown territory but I’m not the first to do so, nor will I be the last.
One of my reasons for venturing into this wilderness is my tendency to get distracted by intellect, and I often think about this in relationship to dancing. Years ago, I made a clear and specific decision that I wasn’t interested in pursuing the more technical aspects of dance. I’m a social dancer, I like to experiment and explore, going far outside the choreography and “normal” movement and shapes. In more recent conversations, I realize that this is a an advanced approach to dance, if not a truly “complete” approach. The greatest dancers are those who challenge themselves technically, as well as artistically, and I’ve long since left the road to technique.
I made this decision because dance is one of the only places in my life where my brain is OFF. The minute I start concerning myself with technique (Am I a fast enough spinner? Are my arms straight? Am I pointing my toe enough? Are my shine patterns symmetrical?), I am out of my heart and body and into my head. I’ve got enough technique and body control that I can forget about it and simply enjoy the music, movement, and connection with my partner. THAT is what I crave in dance – not greater technique or an extensive repertoire – even those things are wonderful. This is what I thought I could transfer into my writing, this sense of being grounded enough in the technical that I could focus solely on the story.
Because I have a solid grounding in writing technique, even if it is largely informal, I thought I had a decent chance at putting together a story people would want to read. I wasn’t naive enough to think it would be perfect, but I did feel I was competent. As of today, that feeling has entirely evaporated. I realize this is probably a normal part of the process for any writer, but I am keenly feeling my lack of formal training, experience in creative writing and storytelling, and in the craft itself. I’ve realized that the “how” of storytelling – all the decisions about timeline, details, organization, setting (you know – all the things that make up a story) – is not some magic combination of luck and brilliance, it is grounded in technique and exposure and work work work.
I’m not sure I was arrogant when I began this project but I definitely didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Today, my lack of confidence is showing up as “what made you think you could do this? you don’t know shit about writing anything other than program outlines and lesson plans? how could you be so disrespectful of all those people who have spent years learning the craft by thinking you could just sit down and pound out something decent – with no experience or training? who do you think you are?”
I realized recently that I have several well-known, well-respected authors and storytellers in my bigger circle of acquaintances and I cringe when I think about my arrogance. They’ve spent *years* working and perfecting their crafts and I think I can come along in a few months and produce a top quality piece of work? Even though I’m posting this online, I’m kind of hoping none of them read it (I’m pretty sure none will) – I don’t want them to know how clueless I really am.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this feeling, this terrible and crippling lack of confidence, is another obstacle to overcome, another block on the road to shipping. It’s an unexpected and unfamiliar feeling – this lack of confidence with regard to writing, with regard to work. I’ve been confident in my ability to complete, to execute, to ship, for years and years. Even when I was unemployed and desperate, I was still able to scrabble together enough gigs to limp along – I was still able to make things happen.
But I can’t “make” this happen, and that is an unknown, uncomfortable feeling. I can’t brain-muscle my way through, force the words I know are “right,” or build an outline and follow the bread crumbs backwards. None of those things are working, and they’re the majority of my toolkit. My unconscious competence isn’t unconscious anymore, and my skillset needs to change and grow. I’m afraid that learning what I need to learn (or think I do) will take too long, that I’ll never get it done or the story will no longer be relevant.
As I typed that, my head realized that it’s nonsense but my heart still feels afraid and worried. I drew this a week or two ago, on a really really bad day. Today isn’t that bad and writing this post helped.