Believe

As a child, I fully expected to be writing for a living by the time I hit my mid-20s. That’s all I wanted out of life. I was reading at an adult level in fifth grade. I won writing contests. English teachers doted on me and told me that I was destined for great things.

I believed them.

When I was 18, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I had already suspected I had this based upon my own research, but I didn’t know what to do about it, how to make it go away so that I’d be able to feel like a normal person.

The psychiatrist told me I needed pills. Yes, pills would fix the “chemical imbalance” in my brain and everything would be peachy.

I believed him.

It wasn’t long before the “voices in my head” were effectively muted, and remained so for nearly two decades. I wish I’d known, at the time, that those voices are part of what enabled me to express myself through the written word. But how could I have known? People older and much wiser than me told me that something was wrong with me because I didn’t feel or act like them.

What’s wrong with you? Have you taken your meds?

I stopped writing, got enormously fat, quit going to school, and quit caring about things. I worked and slept. Yeah, pills helped silence my OCD, but they silenced everything else in the process.

My creative muse would manifest itself in various ways, through musical projects, drawing, anything but writing, which I found I no longer had a passion for. When I made the attempt, I felt like I was wasting my time.

Published authors helped reinforce this mindset with their “I got lucky but it’s nearly impossible to break into this industry so don’t even try” answers to interview questions.

I believed them.

I managed to squeeze out a couple of novels in my mid-thirties, but they didn’t come easy. Words didn’t flow like they once did. The pills kept me numb. And those books aren’t me.

A year ago I began to write again and I discovered that without the soul-numbing effects of psychotropic medications like Prozac and Xanax, writing was fun again. It was fulfilling. I’ve been writing daily now for a full year, beating my brain back into shape like Rocky Balboa preparing for his big comeback fight with Apollo Creed. I’m in the meat-punching stage right now, and the smell of blood has awakened my hunger.

The naysayers are still around, the people who say “Don’t write, it’s not worth the attempt. Failure is inevitable. Be something else, something ordinary and practical like everyone else.”

Even the ones who try to be encouraging by offering helpful tips often stray into “This is how you should write” territory. Oh, you simply MUST outline. You’ve gotta do this and this and this and this because that’s what worked for me.

I don’t believe them anymore.

Fuck them. I thought I was hot shit when I was in high school, and that I was destined to become the greatest writer of the 21st century. I hated myself in all other aspects, but of this I was certain.

When it didn’t happen, I decided that all of the negative Nellies out there were probably right. Why even try? 20 years later, working a menial job under people who speak to me as if I’m a child, I realize that it didn’t happen because I stopped writing. Ultimately it was me who decided to swallow all of the pills, both literal and figurative, that I was being given.

I won’t make that mistake again.

I’m back, and this time I’ve got 20 years of life experience under my belt. I know pain. I know struggle. I know poverty. I know love. I know heartbreak. I know bullshit when I hear it.

And when I hear certain authors trying to keep everyone out of their exclusive little club with their discouraging words, I dismiss those words as the bullshit that they are.

I’m not much older than JK Rowling was when she published the first Harry Potter book. She didn’t get lucky. Those books became the lasting cultural phenomenon they’ve become because they’re great books.

Oh, you think you’re that good?

Yeah, I do. I know I am. I’m not listening to you fuckers anymore. You’re just writers. I’m Mark Twain. I’m Edgar Allen Poe. I’m Ray Bradbury. Get the fuck out of my way or get run over. The time has come for me to stop believing what others say or think and start believing in myself.

9 thoughts on “Believe

  1. Thank you, I appreciate that. I asked myself, before I hit “publish” if this post was going to come across the wrong way, but I decided to heed my own advice. Self-deprecation seems to be a common trait amongst writers and I’m attempting to break the habit.

  2. I see nothing wrong with your approach, if you don’t believe you are good enough then you will never accomplish anything. And I agree, I see some terrible advice given to writers. Too many people think a cookie cutter approach is going to work. Just because something works for say, Stephen King, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. One of the worst things I see, and I’ve seen it quite a few times, is people saying you must consistently put out novel length books for a minimum of 10 years before you deserve/can expect to be even noticed. That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.

    Here’s something amusing. I rarely talk to anyone in the real world about my writing but a few weeks ago it came up and I mentioned to this person that I write poetry. Their response was “Poetry? What in the hell do you have to write poetry about?” I will admit, I was stumped. That was such an ignorant question. I dismissed it, but those are the little seeds which get planted in our heads, and we have to be sure not to let them grow. Ironically, I’m talking about it now, so that seed is obviously still there. I generally don’t give a shit what anyone thinks, but when you hear things like that, it reinforces your own self-doubt.

  3. And I value advice for sure, I mean Stephen King’s “on writing” is full of good advice, but they’re loose guidelines, not law. They’re tweakable and customizable. If something doesn’t work for you and something else does, no one can really invalidate that.

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