I started to blog for the Huffington Post last year after I told a friend casually that I love to write. After submitting a piece, they asked asked for a headshot and published my first blog almost immediately. Magic. How could it be so easy? I didn't even get a chance to re-read the blog before it was published and then there it is in the universe. I felt buck naked. I must have read it at least 20 times after it was published. Self-doubt kicked in. Am I really worthy of this platform?
In the months that followed, I wrote and wrote. Thirteen blogs in total in the first year. It was easy. With words floating in my head constantly, they found their rightful place on the screen in front of me. "Words are things," said Maya Angelou. I felt grateful that these words came easily. More importantly, the ideas were the spark that triggered the sentences and paragraphs that followed. The feedback was amazing. It energized me.
People ask how I find the time to write. "Writing comes more easily when you have something to say," says Sholem Asch. People also wonder if you have free reign over what you write about. Yes and no. You can write about what you want but everything you write is reviewed by an editor. Up until eight weeks ago, my blogs were published with no changes, short of one title. When I realized that the title was different, I tried to not take it personally but admit that I liked mine better. This was nothing compared to how I felt when I heard back on the last blog I submitted that essentially "we're going to pass." Self-doubt kicked in again. Funny how that happens when you experience success and failure.
Confused. I re-read it at least 20 times to determine why it sucked so much. It wasn't particularly controversial. I mean I wrote a piece on Charlie Hebdo that I could of sworn would get rejected. I was prepared that time. But with this one, I was take back. It's likely getting bad performance review. For a recovering pleaser, this is devastating.
It knocked me off my game. I have a career and blog for "fun" so what's the big deal? The truth is writing is deadly personal. You may not be sharing your deepest darkest secrets but they are your words. You offer them to others and hope that they are received as intended. Blogging is a one way conversation. "Never read the comments," says my friend Kathy Buckworth who has a strong voice and distinctive point of view. I had written a piece that got a lot of attention, both good and bad. After I left go of the feeling of wanting to defend myself, I was flattered that I started a feisty dialogue.
My biggest fear in life is waking up with no ideas. Ideas are currency. They comprise the value that you choose to share with the universe. Whether you offer them to your employer for a salary or you blog in exchange for a connection with others, the bigger the ideas the bigger the payback. I usually have three or four blogs "under construction" and there's comfort there. I've never faced a screen with no ideas, however after the "reject email," I found myself facing a screen unable to write.
"You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair -- the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page." Stephen King, A Memoir of the Craft, On Writing
Maybe writing was too easy for me? May be was coming to blank page lightly? Now I was double guessing every word in my head so they refused to make through my hands to the keyboard and onto the screen. That process that has been so liberating is now paralyzing. I set an intention to write, made the time, sat in the chair and nothing. I couldn't bring myself to finish any of the blogs I had started. This was my longest hiatus from writing ever.
When I was in middle school, my teacher thought that I should go to a remediation class for reading, writing and comprehension. I was there for a couple of days, when the teacher kicked me out after she read one of my essays. I don't remember what it was about but I do remember her saying "anyone using the words 'blood curdling shriek' should not be in this class." When I started working, someone said to me, "your English is so good." This shouldn't have been a huge surprise since I was born in Canada, but I guess with my last name, they expected less? You could say that I didn't have a past that validated me as thinking of myself as a writer.
Self-doubt is a disease. It latches onto those hidden vulnerabilities, like cells in your body, which makes it spread. Somehow during this time, I didn't remember that I got straight As in all three English high school classes. This would have been a good antidote for feeling that I might be a bad writer.
Failure is an interesting thing. Most of the times it's defined by you, not others. It can be as blatant as getting fired which we'd all agree could be seen as a failure to perform at a job or at a minimum, a failure of fit. But other forms and feelings of failure or more subtle and intrinsic. Nobody knew that my last blog for rejected except my husband. I just told a few people last week. It felt good. It allowed me to realize why I was experiencing this writer's block. It wasn't about the writing at all. The feeling of failure that resulted in the block, was really about an idea that was not valued. So what? Why did this need to paralyze me?
So this my first blog since the hiatus. It's not perfect. It doesn't contain some epic idea that will change your work or personal life. Part confession and part admission, it's purpose is to share how the perception of failure, even if it's minimal in the grand scheme of things, can result in self-doubt that risks devaluing everything else that you offer. We all have had set backs, some more public than others. When you have one, don't sit on it and let if fester. Self-doubt is a disease and if don't diagnose it, it will degenerate your confidence. Figure out what this set back means to you, the feelings it triggers. Tuck away the irrational ones, making sure you're not dismissive about it and distill the rationale ones into one or two take-aways that will amplify your value going forward. This is how I hit the rest button.
My takeaways are that my ideas are good even if a few may not be and that even if writing isn't easy at times, it's still worth it, even of others don't read what I write. It's a form of therapy as all those thoughts need to find a home somewhere so why not on a screen or paper. It is the vehicle for my ideas, my currency, my value. If you get a chance to read this, then my editor things this blog is one of the good ones. If you don't, then I'm still working on the other ideas I love. Most importantly, I realized that the the writing itself is the payback and connection with readers is the privilege.