Good read over at Tales of the Aggronaut today for those who are interested in the process of writing. It’s titled “The Permission to Suck” and speaks to the need for new writers to be brave enough to write without fear. Fear of what? Fear of not being good enough. The timing of the post is great, because I’ve noticed a trend over at the newbie blogger initiative forums within the newbie introduction thread. Many of the new bloggers introduce themselves and describe their writings as “ramblings about…” whatever subject they plan to loosely address within the blog. Reading these descriptions (especially the ones who describe their blogs as “rambling”) cause me to jump to a couple of potential conclusions about the authors. Either, both or neither of which might be true:
- The author does not have a clear vision of what their blog is going “to be” when it grows up. Perfectly understandable, as I fall into this camp most days as well. As Belghast says: “Just write”.
- The author lacks confidence in their work.
It’s this second possibility that I find the most interesting, and also ties in more clearly with giving yourself “permission to suck”. There seems to be this expectation in western culture that people are just “born” a certain way, with specific talents or vices, which simply cannot be avoided or overcome. I see this in my kids. They try a sport for the first time, have no immediate impact, decide that they’re “not good” at that sport and decide to quit. On the flip side, I also have a child who was born with an impulsive disorder. He is at a social disadvantage to most of his peers. He was, in effect, born this way. That doesn’t give him permission to eschew all social graces at the expense of those around him. Yes, he is disadvantaged, but aren’t we all in certain ways?
Sometimes this heightened self-expectation can lead to a lack of confidence, or the fear to start something new. We look around at all of the established people and we say “well, here I am. Doing this thing. But it’s not very good, really.”. What isn’t immediately clear is that all of these people we’re comparing ourselves to have been working very hard over a long period of time to get where they are. The Internet has shifted culture in a way that has not been beneficial to this perception. We are instantly gratified at every click. You want a new song? Here it is. News from China? No need to even ask! Play a new game? Here it is in your browser. Instant success in online new media? Errrmm….
Instant, anonymous feedback mechanisms have also been detrimental. Some comments and replies serve no purpose other than to destroy confidence. Is it any wonder that the newest generations desire instant, immediate success? To today’s youth, “fail” is a meme to be mocked, not a pathway to success.
Self-awareness is important. Understand who you are, what your motivations are, your strengths, your weaknesses, and realistically what you can accomplish now. Once you have accomplished it (say, a first post on a blog), you can take a step back and re-evaluate your position. What did you learn? How can you apply that to future endeavors? Wise people are constantly re-evaluating themselves. Blogging is a process, as is life. Nobody is born to write. For some people, it comes more easily than for others. But the real success stories are those who continually work at it and consistently improve.
This can be applied to podcasters and vidcasters as well. It’s easy to get distracted by the sensational story of the person who was in the right place at the right time. The guy whos cat video went viral. The woman who started the first travel blog. Then, compare yourself to them because “hey, I can film a cat video or post pictures to a website just as easily as those people!”. The problem is, those people won the lottery. Most people don’t win the lottery. Most of us settle down into a job that doesn’t irritate us too badly, we work hard, we constantly re-evaluate our performance and improve, and 30 or 40 years later, hopefully we’ve provided for our families and socked enough away to enjoy life for a little while. Blogging – or any project/hobby – is much the same. It helps to have a reasonable understanding and expectation when we first start so we don’t become too discouraged early in the process.
Now for a word of encouragement. Belghast says that you will look back on your early posts and be embarrassed. This is probably generally true, but occasionally I am surprised by the quality of some of the past posts on my personal blog. Every once in awhile I’ll click on a post from 2011 or earlier and think to myself “wow, I was really ON that day!”. That may be more of a commentary on my lowered expectations of my past self than of the actual quality of the post, but it’s nice to be surprised by younger me, occasionally.