I published my first story on Medium recently. I’ll be the first to say that it isn’t particularly good. It is a start though. A desire to spread my writing wings has been growing for five or six years. Being a master of prevarication a reason to put things off was never far away. The past five years have been busy, there is no doubt about that. I embarked on a distance learning law degree in 2014. Three months later I married my sweetheart; this in itself was not your usual marriage. I was living and working in Macau. The hours were long, the boss was a workaholic monster, you know the story. My fiancé was in Ghana, where I had lived in 2011. We planned to marry in Macau but, despite having visited at least half a dozen times before, Baisiewa was refused entry upon arrival. Not to be outdone by such bureaucratic tomfoolery I booked a month off work, travelled to Ghana and tied the knot. I returned to Macau, applied for her to join me and got down to reading some law.
We planned to wait five years before starting a family. This would give me time to finish my studies and for us to see a bit of the world together. Burns may have had us in mind when we wrote that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Our first bundle of joy was on his way after three months of marriage. So now I was newly-married, with a newborn, a job and a degree to contend with. Little one number two joined us in 2017 giving me a full set of excuses not to write. I was made redundant in mid 2018. This entailed moving the family halfway across the globe to the UK, setting up a home and finding a new job. The long-term visa application for my wife, which involved a three-month separation while she returned home to process the visa was no walk in the park either.
By February 2018 we reunited as a family and in May I submitted my final piece of work towards my degree. Now was the time to get writing. Except it wasn’t. Prevarication can be a powerful thing. I determined to rise early to get some words down before the boys awoke, but then our youngest would have a rough night and provide me with an excuse not to write. Evenings then, but I couldn’t leave my friend Steve to tackle The Division 2 alone could I? Another excuse. I read many stories on Medium by, what are to me, accomplished writers with much valuable advice to share. I was preparing to strike out on my own. More excuses. I found an amazing array of excuses not to write, knowing that the universal advice to putative writers is……just write!
There are no consequences for the writer that doesn’t write because that writer never existed.
Excuses are often little more than manifestations of fear. With writing, it’s the fear of being judged. Of being exposed as imperfect. Of being called out as the white, (almost) middle-aged, heterosexual cis gendered male that I am. Such fears are at once trifling and disabling. These fears though, are merely a test. Not so much of your ability than of your resolve. A test of your true intention. Sometimes we are forced to confront our fears. I worked for many years in the casino industry. I still take pride in having graduated from a training school with an 80% failure rate. I still remember the crippling fear I felt when walking to work for the first six months. Dealing a live game of roulette is no joke. The game is fast and the players experienced. So much can go wrong. Fumbling chips and miscalculating payouts rank high on inexperienced croupier’s lists of nightmares. There is little room for error. It is much like being on stage. There were evenings when all I wanted to do was turn around and go home. That fear was combatted by the fact that it was my job. People were expecting me. There would be consequences if I succumbed to my fear. And so in to work I went. After a year roulette was second nature to me but I still remember the fear.
The difference with writing is, of course, that if we succumb to the fear then no-one will notice. There are no consequences for the writer that doesn’t write because that writer never existed. The external forces which assist in overcoming fear at work are absent for the vast majority of writers who start out both unknown and unpaid. But overcome those fears we must or we simply cease to be. To paraphrase Dorothea Brande, if we can’t sit down to write then we may just as well give up for writers we are not. We will be imperfect. Just like a fresh roulette dealer is imperfect. Like that roulette dealer we should also expect to improve with practice, by doing. I have a feeling that many writers hold back on starting because they are waiting for the right time, for their magnum opus to come spilling out onto the page. Tolstoy didn’t wait for War and Peace so why should anyone else?
We will be judged. But once we realise that the reactions of others are theirs and theirs alone, out of our control, it is easy to see that this particular fear is a fear of nothing at all. We may write for a target audience but we don’t know who will read, what their personal stories, sensibilities and triggers will be. As for our race, gender, age group and general demographic, this is what we are. Undoubtedly our worldview and opinions will be influenced by who we are and where we come from. Some folk won’t like it. Some folk reallywon’t like it, though we should never fear expressing who we are, not when the alternatives are not expressing ourselves at all or attempting to express ourselves as someone who we are not.
The fears, doubts and excuses don’t just dry up.
Having run out of excuses and determined to face my fears I decided to get something, anything, published onto Medium. Naturally, having reasoned my way out of my prevarication and determining to face those fears didn’t immediately make them go away. So I decided to flank them, to head them off at the pass, so to speak. I reworked a piece which had formed part of my law studies. The brief had been to create an academically informed piece with journalistic flair. This lent itself to an essay / opinion piece which was less stuffy than the usual academic assignments which make up law and seemed an obvious choice. I went through it and made some changes. I found myself an image, came up with a headline and away it went to Medium. Going through the process of actually publishing my first story was, for want of a better word, liberating. I could do it. I had done it. To top it all off a few hours later I received an email from Medium informing me that my story had been curated. To finally get over that hurdle of just getting something out there has given me an immense boost. I said that my first piece wasn’t particularly good and the real world is apparently bearing that out. Despite being curated it isn’t exactly crawling with engagement. There is still much work to do, but the first step has finally been taken.
My advice, if I am in a position to offer advice, is to just get writing. Take that first step. Vanquish those fears. Conquer those excuses. It is most definitely a process. The fears, doubts and excuses don’t just dry up. I began this story pretty much the moment that Medium curated my first. That was almost two weeks ago. My kid had a tummy ache. I had pins and needles. I’m tired. I’m here now finishing the story so those excuses have taken another battering. I’ve taken another step. War and Peace can wait. To improve my writing I figure I need to do two things. I need to do it and I need to care about doing it. I’ll end with a quote from Alexander Pope, which I keep pinned above my monitor; true ease in writing comes from art not chance, as those move easiest who have learned to dance.
Good luck with your writing — just do it! I’d love to hear how you have overcome your initial fears and to see what you have put out there.