As a writer, I’m always looking for inspiration. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me something that gave me some hope. She sent me this video of Atlantic Monthly writer and author Ta-Nehisi Coates talking about writing. I watched it—it’s about four minutes long—and was like, whoa, that’s profound.
He doesn’t give advice that’s all, “do this, then write 1,000 words a day, then do that, and share your writing with ten people, blah, blah, blah.” He talks about breakthroughs and how he thinks those breakthroughs with your writing come through failure. What he said gives me the encouragement to keep writing.
I love that he says, “it’s not really that mystical.” Success at writing is repeated practice over and over and over again . . . until you become something that you had no idea you could really be. And I think that same insight works for any kind of success, whether you are writing or doing something else.
How many times do we hear about practice? The Beatles didn’t just one day pick up some instruments, play, and have instant success. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he talks about the 10,000 hour rule: In a nutshell, you have to practice 10,000 hours before you get good. He uses the Beatles as one example. They played eight-hour gigs in Hamburg way before they became a major sensation in the United States. Yes, they had talent, and they also practiced A LOT. (My personal opinion is repeated effort is what separates good from great.)
So, the simple advice is write and write a lot, over and over and over again. Keep practicing. And I’ve heard that before, so why did it resonate with me so deeply when Coates said it? Maybe because he shares how he was failing and freelancing wasn’t bringing in much yet he kept writing. He didn’t keep writing because he felt great about it, he did it in spite of the self-doubt. It didn’t get easier for him, it’s always a process. And I think that Coates acknowledging what’s so, acknowledging what’s real, is much more relatable to me.
I’m scared shitless most of the times I sit down to write. It’s not easy. And it’s vulnerable. He shares this example of when you sit down with friends and you’re talking and you all have this brilliant idea and you decide to sit down later and write about that idea. And then it’s not so brilliant. It’s never as good as it is in your head. He compares it to music in your head that you are trying to get out, and it never comes out as perfectly as in your head.
And that, for me, was my “Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking and didn’t know other people experienced,” moment. It gives me some grace to not worry about the writing being so perfect because when I do worry, I stop writing. And that would be the biggest failure.
So, keep writing, singing, dancing, or doing whatever it is you love to do, even if it isn’t perfect.