Karen Cushman, author of the Newberry-winning young adult novel Catherine, Called Birdy, did not start writing until she was 49 years old. She just never thought of writing as a career opportunity, or at least did not picture herself in that role. In an author’s note from her book’s 20th anniversary edition, she writes, “Writers, I began to think, were people who had all the answers. I didn’t have all the answers; I didn’t even know all the questions.”
I read Cushman’s book for the first time a few months back, and her words struck me mostly because they spoke to a topic I have been considering quite a bit as of late: having all the answers. And not just having them, but also seeking them, craving them, doubting them, and why the heck we want them in the first place.
I’ve thought, “I should write a blog post about this,” more than once during the past several months, but something kept stopping me. I didn’t have all the answers, even the answers about the answers themselves. And like Cushman, most days I don’t even know all of the questions.
I know in my gut that searching for answers is a universal human experience, as is the phenomenon that I like to call “analysis paralysis.” That’s what happens when we spend so much time weighing the options, doing the homework and worrying over the outcomes that we never get started.
In her article “Do Whatever you F*cking Want,” blogger and anti-BS coach Nicole Antoinette has this advice for aspiring writers: “You don’t have to write a perfect first draft and you don’t have to wait until you’ve done more ‘research’ and you don’t have to worry about who’s going to publish it or what other people are going to think because none of that matters unless you just start writing.”
I love this! There is absolutely no point in concerning ourselves with the eventualities if we don’t take the first step.
But what about the people who claim to have found all the answers? I would argue that it’s our quest for answers and our faith in those who have them that drives our entire economy, not to mention the lucrative self-help industry and the success of so many self-made blogs.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting down on entrepreneurs or bloggers or anyone following their dreams. I’m all for discovering one’s own way and sharing those findings with others. This life is just too hard to go it alone–we have to rely on one another for help with the tough questions, and I love the advice, encouragement and empowerment I’ve found through both online and offline connections.
But I do have a couple of concerns…
First, that amid the apparent availability of quick-fix answers, we often forget how to wrestle with the questions ourselves, and subsequently miss out on what the wrestling teaches us–that we are strong and patient and capable.
Second, that we fool ourselves into thinking that the only content (or career or product) that has value is one that provides a neat and tidy answer. This is the lie that keeps people like Karen Cushman, and even myself, from doing what is most deeply meaningful for them.
I used to think that to be a writer, I “had to” have a blog. And that to be a blogger, I “had to” write prescriptive content that would answer somebody’s questions. And that to be of value to my readers, I “had to” monetize my site and market the crap out of myself. And when I couldn’t find joy in that, I thought it meant that something was wrong with me. (Make sure you read the rest of Nicole’s article for her thoughts on “have to’s.”)
The number one thing that has kept me from writing is wondering what I have to offer that someone else would want–wondering if what is within me would please an editor, or inspire a reader, or provide me with enough content for an online marketing platform to support my brand as an author. And without those answers, I never got started.
So here’s what I’m going to do about it.
First, I’m going to tell you right here and now that what you will read on this blog will not be a definitive how-to. That’s just not me.
I just finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Learning to Walk in the Dark, which is decidedly un-how-to-ish. Brown Taylor shares the steps of her journey, invites us to tag along and shares the resources that she found helpful, but she never offers a prescription for what ails you. That is much more my style (and will continue to be, even when I finally get around to writing that post about installing our patio).
Second, I’m starting a little reading/listening/watching list of things that remind me of these truths, and I would love to add your recommendations for embracing, empowering, non-perfecting stories. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
- Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor — Looks at wrestling with unknowing as a natural and non-scary part of life.
- “Do Whatever You F*cking Want” by Nicole Antoinette
- “The First Step for Anything is This: Show Up” also by Nicole Antoinette
- Promise Land: My Journey Through America’s Self-Help Cuture by Jessica Lamb Shapiro — I caught the tail end of a Fresh Air interview with the author, and even that snippet may have helped me to finally get this blog post out.
- “Do You Have Imposter Syndrome?” by Rachelle Gardener — For when the flipside of not having all the answers is freaking out that someone is going to find me out.
- Brené Brown’s TEDTalks — Been meaning to read Daring Greatly, but thought this might be a good intro.
Third, I’m going to get started. Every day–or every day that I can. And I’m going to work on sharing more of what I write, because I don’t “have to” wait for the right opportunity or to have all the answers.
What do you think? What should I add to my reading list?