I'm not Good Enough

Is your writing ever paralyzed by that statement? I know it’s gotten me sometimes. All it takes is picking up a book you love and reading for a few minutes. Soon, you’ll be saying to yourself, “That settles it. No writing for me today! There’s no way I can match that, let alone improve on it. Find my own voice? Hah! It’s the squeak of a mouse.”

The problem is common enough that distinguished creative types have their own point of view:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” 

― Ira Glass

For those looking for a more short-term approach, author Robert Sheckley had some great advice:

Don’t try to write a story. Try to write a simulation of a story.

It doesn’t have to contain real characters or a real plot, just hazy imitations of those. And the words? It doesn’t matter. It’s just a fake story so write whatever stupid little words fall out of your head. If you want to describe something as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, go for it. If you’d rather call it nicedo that instead. But call it something and move on.

I took a similar approach when I ran into a wall with my current novel just a few weeks ago. I can tell you, it works. Many times, we wind ourselves up so tight, our creative blood seizes up and refuses to flow. That’s not good and when our body finally relaxes naturally, we look back at all of the wasted time and feel bad about ourselves all over again.

So seeing how this is a common problem, how have you tackled it? I would love to hear your thoughts.

-Phillip

0 thoughts on “I'm not Good Enough

  1. Years ago, my college dean told us, “The paper you finish is always better than the paper you don’t,” and that’s how I approach any piece of writing, whether a legal brief or a creative work. I can’t let perfectionism stop me from putting words on a page. Once the words are there, I can always improve it through the editing process.

    1. Glad to hear such good advice has stuck with you. You can’t wax a car if you don’t have a car to wax.

  2. It’s a nice coincidence that you bring up the Ira Glass quote, because I was just revisiting it this week. I think it’s important to add a caveat to the quote: “After you’ve been fighting your way through for a while, after you’ve jumped into that gap a hundred times without a parachute, after you’ve fallen flat on your face in the bottom of the gorge, you’ll start to notice that even with all the falls you’re jumping a little further each time. The other side of the chasm suddenly doesn’t seem miles away. You start to gain confidence and realize that you can in fact jump the gap. When you finally land on the other side, you’ll wonder why you had any trouble jumping it in the first place.”

    I basically get over self doubt by doing. I sit down and write. I don’t think about how people will react, if it will sell, or any of that outside stuff. I make the exchange between me and my words alone. I can worry about all the non-writing aspects later. When I’m creating, I just create, and don’t even give doubt a guest room in my brain.

    1. Oliver, that’s a great addition to the quote and I like how you just block out the world when you write. I think that’s the right medicine for Creation Constipation. We should call it something very prescription-med sounding… Unblockia™. *Warning, may induce sudden vomiting of words and unexplained bouts of massive creativity.

  3. I’ve struggled with paralysis, knowing a word isn’t right. I’m learning to be okay with writing the wrong word, underlining it so it’s easy to spot when I go back, and moving on.
    I like the idea of “killer taste.” Just knowing good writing when we see it is something, isn’t it?

    1. Good on ya for making notes and moving on! I’ve gotten better at doing that too, even though a part of me reflexively wants to reach back and fix that stupid word that just won’t cooperate. Also, well said, about “knowing good writing when we see it” being something. We’re all awesome, we just have to work on expressing how awesome we are. 🙂

  4. Here is a cool video someone put together of that Ira Glass quote:

    1. Very cool! I hadn’t seen that before, so thanks for sharing.

  5. Excellent question. I talked to two writer friends about this today. I often feel inadequate as a writer. But I can’t stay in that place. That’s too much like perching on the top of a very narrow fence. I try to shore up my perceived inadequacies by writing and rewriting; by stretching myself as a writer. And of course prayer does help. 🙂

    1. Prayer is a great way to get things moving. Even if some folks don’t believe in a higher power, I recommend they take some time to stick themselves in a quiet place and just talk things out as if someone else is listening. It’s really does help to clear the mind and relieve you of some burdens.

  6. When I struggle with analysis paralysis, I turn on some music and listen for that one line that gets me writing again. Sometimes I even get an idea for a new story.

    1. Great idea Jill! Music does help, whether consuming or creating. As a musician, I find switching gears and just noodling around on the piano or guitar is a good distraction without completely leaving the world of creation.

  7. I love that quote from Ira Glass. I first heard it on NPR a while ago and hearing it from Ira is just amazing. Makes me want to cry and type at the same time.

    1. It really is well said. That video Joshua posted was the first time I’d actually heard Ira Glass say it himself.

  8. I love all the creative names: Analysis Paralysis, Creation Constipation, Unblockia™. No matter what irks you, I’ve found that believing in yourself and what you’re creating is the best way to keep the creative juices flowing.

    1. Thanks Candace! I think you’re spot on about believing in yourself and your work to be creative. If you feel that you’re not good enough to create, why bother? That’s a bad place to be stuck and I think all of us have been there before.

  9. […] one for many of the bloggers I follow. Phillip McCollum wrote about a writer’s paralysis in “I’m Not Good Enough” (includes a great Ira Glass quotation, too); Hermania Chow discussed self-esteem in “5 More […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.