I don’t know what to say.
No, really. I’m stuck.
I’ve been sitting here for two hours staring at a blank cursor. My heart rate is through the roof, my hands are sweaty and still, I’m frozen.
When I was younger and imagined being a writer, this is not what I had in mind. I thought I’d sip coffee in cafés, take long walks at sunset to mull over new ideas, and wear a lot of cozy sweaters. The ideas would flow freely, and I would be a vessel to a something bigger than myself.
Turns out, it’s not like that at all.
I take my coffee to go, sit in traffic at sunset, and usually trade my sweaters in for sweatpants. The ideas don’t so much flow as they are forced out by sheer force of will. And fear – lots and lots of fear.
When I was in kindergarten, we had a special day for show-and-tell. I brought in a stuffed bear that played music when you squeezed its hand. I thought I had this show-and-tell-thing in the bag. Who wouldn’t love a bear that plays music? Solid gold!
But as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” played out over the class, I realized something terrible.
Nobody liked it.
I should have known, I thought to myself as I tried to figure out what to do. I had made the mistake of going up after Andrew, who’d delighted us by singing the entire Brady Bunch theme with a speech impediment that made it impossible for him to pronounce his r’s. (“Here’s the stowy, of a lovely lady. Who was bwinging up thwee vewy lovely giwls.”)
It was a hard act to follow.
I stood in front of my class, vulnerable and panicked and did the only thing I could think of to do. I lied.
“It plays the music I tell it to,” I said a little too loudly. Kids sat up straighter, intrigued. I explained that when I whispered in the bear’s ear it played the songs I told it to. I saw my teacher’s brow wrinkle but I pushed ahead. “It’s magical. And it only works for me.”
I can’t stop thinking about that story as I sit here, struggling over what to write. In any creative field – and even just in life – there is constant fear that you, and the singing bear you came in with, are never quite enough.
That sometime soon people are going to discover all the hard work you’ve been doing was really just luck, and they’ll realize you’re a fraud.
But what does it mean to be a fraud? Is it that you aren’t touched by a muse every second of the day? Is it that you’re not wearing a cozy sweater at sunset, congratulating yourself over how brilliant you are? I think there’s a misconception out there that if something doesn’t come a hundred percent naturally – if you have to work at it – you aren’t doing it right.
I have yet to find a creative person who doesn’t work and sweat and struggle over every piece. There is no magic answer, no valve you can turn on. Like anything else, it just comes down to trusting yourself.
When I sit down to write, I might have an idea, but I have no clue where it’s going to go from there.
Like, what do I write now?
Part of the process is being comfortable with that insecurity. Being okay with never knowing exactly where you’re going to land.
I never do.
Until a moment like this, when you step back and recognize that you’ve done it. You’ve finished something again. Somehow.
You realize, for the hundredth time, you had it all along. The muse was inside of you. The magic was all your own creation.
And the singing bear was just waiting for you to tell it what tune to play.
This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum. You can find them (and me) here.