Last April, I wrote a post titled “When Words Aren’t Good Enough.” In it, I described a situation that caused me to question not only if I was a talented writer and editor, but also if I myself was actually good enough. I tried to end that post hopefully . . .
If you have words that need to be out in the world, set them free. Tell your story. Give a compliment—even if you’re worried it will be awkward. Be vulnerable. Don’t get stuck inside your head wondering what people will think. Use the words you have like only you can. In the end that will be good enough.
I wish I could say I’d taken my own advice. At the time, the pain I was experiencing was still fresh in that keep-you-up-at-night, be-the-centerpiece-of-all-conversations kind of way. I was hurt and had hoped writing that post would alleviate some hesitancy in me, but it didn’t.
The truth is, I had so many unanswered questions. I’d spent months working on a project, and in its final days it had been passed to another editor. The end product was fantastic, but I longed to ask my direct reports what could have been different in the process. How could the devaluation I was feeling have been avoided? I wasn’t looking for an apology—just an explanation.
But that conversation never happened. And eventually, as spring rolled into summer, then summer into fall, and on and on, my unresolved questions were replaced by something else entirely: fear.
What I felt wasn’t exactly a fear of catastrophic failure.
It was more like a fear of being perpetually discouraged.
I was afraid that even on my best day I wouldn’t be able to measure up to the expectations in front of me.
I’m beginning to realize that when faced with a problem, I’m quick to assume I’m at fault. When I look back to last year, my impulse is to think I should have been smarter, more intelligent, or a better team player.
As the silence in my circumstances has persisted, a numbing silence has begun in my head as well.
For the past 10 months, I’ve had so little to say. In my head, nothing feels like it makes sense. There are very few words I’ve deemed worthy of permanence on a page.
I sit down to write, and nothing happens.
It’s jarring that one situation, when not spoken into, can shred all confidence.
The silence of what feels like failure is deafening.
I tend toward the cerebral. I like keeping thoughts inside my head and letting them jumble around for days or weeks at a time until they’re ready to fall out onto a page or be spoken out loud. Words and ideas fuel my spirit and the writing down of them helps me process what’s happening in my “real life”—you know, the one that’s not in my head.
For me, writer’s block is a bit more than a setback; it’s an emotional dilemma.
Last year, when it felt like my own words left me, I began reading the ones others had pieced together. I’ve always loved to read, but during this time books became a distraction from my own scattered thoughts. I wanted to fill my head with ideas that weren’t mine. Ones that wouldn’t let me down.
“Tell me what to think,” I told the books, “I’ve lost my way.”
Over time, I began to see myself in the things I read. From nonfiction to fiction, the profound to the absurd, I was reminded that words mean more to me than entertainment or even a profession.
If the absence of words pulled me apart, it’s words now that are putting me back together.
In his introduction to the sixtieth-anniversary edition of Fahrenheit 451, Neil Gaiman wrote:
Ideas—written ideas—are special. They are the way we transmit our stories and our thoughts from one generation to the next. If we lose them, we lose our shared history.
When I read this passage recently, my eyes froze on the words. The ideas in my head aren’t just about me. They’re about my son as well. There is no doubt in my mind that as Landon gets older, there will be books I’ll be eager to pass to him, the words in them meaning the world to me.
But when I read that quote by Gaiman, I wondered:
Would I be satisfied to not leave a bit of myself behind as well?
As a writer, how could I not leave a legacy of written ideas behind for my son?
It would be like an artist never allowing their child to see their art or a musician never playing a piece of music for those they loved.
Would Landon believe I truly thought words mattered if I didn’t provide any of my own?
For the sake of my son, as well as for myself, I’m once again trying to shake off that hesitancy—the one that whispers, “Not good enough.” Instead of with fear, I open my computer with a hint of humor, a Stuart Smalley-like mantra of “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog gone it, people like me” ringing in my ears.
People talk about how children give them hope for the future. Watching my son, whose word bank is still limited to less than 50 words, I can see hints of all that’s to come. I’m reminded there is greater potential in the words we choose to use well than there are in the ones we keep to ourselves.5