The realization struck in the middle of dinner. I’d been talking about my goals to submit more writing to big, scary publications. My dinner companion (and friend) interrupted me.
“You know, you don’t curse that much, but whenever you talk about submitting your work,” she said, “you call it shit.”
It was true. I’d been talking about getting the courage to finish work, to be more consistent with my writing habits, and to submit to media outlets for which I’d long felt unqualified to share my writing. And over and over, I’d say, “I just need to submit shit!” I added a bit about enormous rates of rejection and getting accustomed to hearing “NO” in response.
But my friend had caught a big tell in my language. I thought of my writing as shit.
A few days later, I was listening to coach and author Tara Mohr on the Being Boss podcast as she talked about women and their “inner critic.” In her book, Playing Big, she calls it “the internal chatter that tells a woman she’s not ready to lead, she’s not enough of an expert, she’s not good enough at this or that.”
For some women, it is most prominent around their professional lives. For others, it comes up around their sense of competence as mothers or partners. For others, it speaks mostly about appearance, body image, or aging. And for others, it chatters most loudly about their creative dreams—to make music or paint or write.
Cut to a workshop I’m attending, dedicated to creating a three-year plan for myself. I’m focusing on writing more, getting published more, and finishing some meaty creative projects. So I tell the story of my friend calling me out at dinner, and I say at the end that I need to think of my work as good enough.
The leader of the workshop chimed in.
“Why not excellent? You’re better than good enough.”
I laughed, forced to admit that I still couldn’t get over the hurdle of mediocrity. I’d gotten brave enough to upgrade from shit! “Good enough” seemed like a step up.
He was right, of course. If I’m convinced that writing and editing are my creative passions in life, can’t I also concede that I have some talent at those skills?
But how many writers around the world say, “My work is the greatest! I’ve finished a brilliant piece!” I’m skeptical of those wordsmiths who are willing to call their work genius. Dorothy Parker, the sharp-tongued, quick-witted writer who worked in the early- to mid-twentieth century, sabotaged herself in an interview with The Paris Review.
And during this time you were writing poems?
My verses. I cannot say poems. Like everybody was then, I was following in the exquisite footsteps of Miss Millay, unhappily in my own horrible sneakers. My verses are no damn good. Let’s face it, honey, my verse is terribly dated—as anything once fashionable is dreadful now. I gave it up, knowing it wasn’t getting any better, but nobody seemed to notice my magnificent gesture.
Apparently, lots of famous authors hate their own work.
Still, there’s a difference in being proud of your work—and being confident enough to share it with the world—and positing that it’s life-changing literature. I’m coaching myself not to call my writing shit and to believe it’s not merely good enough, it’s damn good. Maybe even excellent.
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