Writing begins with enthusiasm. We launch into a long project with optimism. We have an idea, we trust our idea, we set about putting it to the page. All goes swimmingly for a time— until we hit The Wall. The Wall occurs, in most writing, about two-thirds of the way into our work. Put simply, The Wall is doubt. Our previously good idea suddenly seems suspect. We doubt its validity. Our writing skids to a halt.
“Julia, I feel such doubt, it stops me in my tracks,” I have been told many times. I sympathize. Doubt is an excruciatingly painful feeling. It tempts us to take creative U-turns, abandoning our work.
“Julia, it was going so well, and then I found myself thinking, ‘what if I’m kidding myself?’” That is the voice of doubt. It whispers that we are without talent, and that our hopes of a career are mere grandiosity. It encourages us to mistrust our perceptions. The Wall towers high.
Typically, when we encounter the wall, we attempt to power our way past it and over it. “It’s a good idea,” we say to ourselves defensively. “I know it’s a good idea.” But our forced optimism doesn’t win the day. The Wall still towers, casting its ominous shadow on our work. But there is a better way to conquer The Wall, and that is to surrender. Instead of trying to convince ourselves of the brilliance of our idea, we need to say instead, “I am willing to finish this piece of work even if my idea is terrible.” In other words, “I am willing to write badly.”
The moment we are willing to write badly, we begin to have freedom. The Wall no longer dominates our emotional landscape. Instead, like convicts striving to escape prison, we do well not by scrambling over the wall, but by digging our way to freedom under it. Most of us find this approach to the wall a novel idea. We are not really willing to write badly, and yet, when we give ourselves permission, we find that by being willing to write badly, we may write very well indeed.
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