The Only Way

The only way you can learn to write is to write.

Isaac Asimov

This Asimov quote has hung on my wall in some capacity for years in different living spaces and towns and now different states.

It never fails to encourage me and cheer me up, no matter how well or badly my creative efforts may be going at the moment, because it reminds me that the only way to get better is to keep trying, to learn from mistakes, and to simply have fun in the sheer joy of trying to make things.

I’ve been making up (usually terrible) stories since I used my newfound typing skills at the age of 6 or 7 on my first story. It was a funny story (to me at least!) about a kid meeting an alien, and I spent an afternoon just laboring away in Corel Word Perfect on a parent’s old Compaq (with a CRT and everything!) My big sister thought it was dreadful, but I felt joy, and my own jokes made me erupt in laughter. It was a special feeling.

Another favorite Asimov quote is that “Happiness is screwing things up in my own way.” There is no right or wrong way to get started. But we never get started if we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the fear of making mistakes, or not doing the thing “right” the first time. We should remember that we’ll get some things right and others hilariously wrong, but we can only improve an attempt that has actually been made! It might take decades to become the kind of creator that we want to be, but there’s no reason we can’t have fun along the way; we might even make some awesome stuff along the way!

Hell, my mistakes and my own most awful writing have been, by FAR, the source where I have learned the most. In life itself, you’ll never learn or become competent and interesting unless you put yourself out there and stop fearing mistakes. I think it was Gaiman who said, “MAKE INTERESTING MISTAKES.”

When we are afraid of censure or disapproval in our early efforts, sometimes we need to remember that growth means listening to smart feedback from bright, competent people we trust, which is often a crucial training tool to avoid the most egregious mistakes.

At other times, there is simply a taste issue; throughout childhood and my teen years, I made the mistake of allowing myself to be crushed by repeated censure by certain grown-ups in my life who hated everything I made for being “ungodly” or “dark” or “violent” or any number of other silly and sometimes heartless criticisms. I had not yet realized that audience matters.

As a very wise and lovely friend once said, you can be the juiciest peach, but if the person next to you hates peaches, well, they won’t like you! And I think that applies to creative efforts too. Sometimes people just won’t like your flavor or scent or hue of creativity; it does not make either of you right or wrong, because it’s just a matter of taste! And that’s okay.

To adapt Kalidasa, the ancient Indian über-Shakespeare, even if your stuff doesn’t work for today’s audience, there is enormous comfort to be had in remembering that someday, somewhere, your work will light up another spirit. Hell, many of my best friends are dead writers! And some of them never achieved mainstream appreciation until long after they passed away (just look at Emily Dickinson!) The cool thing about the internet connecting all of us is that it is easier than ever to find your audience BEFORE you take a dirt nap.

So here’s to the ones who make things, either well or badly but always with joy and persistence in the act itself. Alan Watts exhorted Zen practitioners to “be the person-doing.” For the people who make things, regardless of medium, let’s never give up, and let’s never stop being the “people-making-things!”

And please always remember that your vast worth and value as a divine soul trapped in this temporary human form is in no way changed by the quantity OR quality of your creative output. Never, ever make the mistake of conflating the two things.