Unoriginal Me

Most Ordinary by Patti Digh

Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

We are our most potent at our most ordinary. And yet most of us discount our “ordinary” because it is, well, ordinary. Or so we believe. But my ordinary is not yours. Three things block us from putting down our clever and picking up our ordinary: false comparisons with others (I’m not as good a writer as _____), false expectations of ourselves (I should be on the NYTimes best seller list or not write at all), and false investments in a story (it’s all been written before, I shouldn’t bother). What are your false comparisons? What are your false expectations? What are your false investments in a story? List them. Each keep you from that internal knowing about which Emerson writes. Each keeps you from making your strong offer to the world. Put down your clever, and pick up your ordinary.

(Author: Patti Digh)

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Questions that plague me – a hovering black cloud of doubt:

False Comparisons:

– If I can’t write like L.M. Montgomery, Orwell, Rand, Conrad or Tolstoy then what is the point…

When I read something as beautifully written as “The Lotus Eaters” by Tatjana Soli – as I’m reading right now – I study her phrasing, her thought process and think how on earth could I write something as wonderful as this? Not the subject matter – not the style – but rather I find myself thinking how plain, dull and incredibly pointless my own writing is. This is where I start to stumble. I revel in the words of others but then I think of my own shortcomings and wish if only my words could be as amazing. I doubt that I have the chops to actually do this. Can I write? Or am I just fooling myself?

False Expectations:

– What do I have to offer and  who would read what I write? If I can’t knock it out of the ballpark on the first try, why bother?

Oh yes, the perfection bug lives quite extravagantly off me. I cannot write/type without fixing errors as I go. I blame it on my journalism/producer background. You had to correct on the fly. It’s a hard, hard habit to break. 

False Investments:

-Do I have an original thought?

I believe that everything I write is pure rubbish so I end up scrapping it after 70 pages because the doubt creeps in and I question where I’m going. Start, trash, restart, trash, restart, trash….

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I know – deep down – what the answer is. It’s just believing it and ignoring that little doubt demon I allow to take up residence on my shoulder.

0 Replies to “Unoriginal Me”

  1. PLEASE ignore that little naggy voice. You are so wrong, in that you are such a creative spirit. You have so many ideas and outlets of expression that you couldn’t help but be an inspiration to me and to so many others! We all have our own insecurities and yes, we have to learn to step outside of our own heads and see ourselves honestly. Sometimes the picture in our head is very far off of the truth.

    I rejoice in the many ways that you express yourself…whether it’s in your writing, in your photography, in music, in the delight that is AnnShirley…so many ways that you contribute to the world around you.

  2. Tracy, do what you can to search on writers’ first drafts–although you may not have much luck 🙂 as everyone hates their first draft and would rather burn it than let others see it. If you are writing only 70pp and not writing a second draft, then you are not seeing evidence of your good work, and that can be so demoralizing. Have you read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird? That needs to be your next book if you haven’t read it yet.

  3. Kim – Well, 70 pages is not the end of the book – it was just an example of I get 70 pages in and then I destroy it. Haven’t done that in a while – but I have a tendency to scrap things. Yes. I’ve read Bird by Bird and love it. 🙂
    Brandee – as always, thanks. I am trying to put a muzzle on that naggy voice! LOL!

  4. I found myself sharing a lot of your thoughts, Tracy. The Lotus Eaters floored me with not only plot and character texture (both of which were extraordinary), but also beauty of language. I wish I were a craftswoman of language like Tatjana Soli.

    I am feeling wildly optimistic today — blame Harvard Square and feeling at home and vanilla soy lattes — but I will throw this out there: Sometimes, our false projections and false expectations merely propel us forward. Maybe we can aim for writing like Soli or Annie Dillard or anyone else whose writing floors us and makes us pause and think and love. Maybe the more we ingest their words, the more they will inspire us.

    Sure, the ambition can become oppressive, and so can the comparison. But, it can all also be an immersion in beauty — and nobody ever had too much beauty in her life.

  5. I wish we could sit in a room and talk this through face to face. I struggle with the same issues when it comes to my writing each and every day and sometimes, it really can be crippling (as of now, I have not worked on my novel for weeks). I hate it. I hate that I let doubt win and I hate that you do too sometimes. You are so wonderfully creative and each and every one of your posts is different and engaging. I do know what you mean and how you feel when reading such beautiful pieces of prose (any book by Roma Tearne leaves me speechless) but I am trying to change my mindset to be inspired.

    I want to gift you The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood. A lovely little gem of a book for writers. I just love it and know that you will too.

  6. Roxanne, I agree and I appreciate that as I had not thought of it in that context. Enjoy the lattes! Hopefully someday we’ll be able to sit and enjoy one together!

    Onyi, I wish we could too. I have a difficult time imagining YOU struggling with writing though as you have such a flair of ingenuity in your writing that I am affectionately jealous. 🙂 Doubt sucks though and I appreciate your compliments. I’ll have to check out Roma Tearne. I love finding out what my friends are reading as it feels like we are touching fingertips when we read what inspires each of us. I’m curious about the pocket muse! Thanks for the love – as always – to you all.

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