As a writer, I am often gripped by the fear of imperfection.
Some days (like today, for instance) the ideas come in bits and pieces. Nothing is really connected, nothing sounds new or particularly enlightening. Honestly, it took me about fifteen minutes just to come up with the last two sentences.
“What am I doing here?” I think to myself. “Other people, the real writers, are good at this. Not me.”
If I was good, really good, I wouldn’t be suffering these kinds of setbacks. Surely, the real writers are good all the time, right? Right?
It’s easy to think that the “real writers” don’t have their off days. We don’t see them work for hours to make a piece of writing a little less awkward. We don’t hold their hand through rejection after rejection. No, we stick around just long enough to read the prolific blog once a week, or flip through the new novel with the shiny cover. And it looks so easy. Yes, writing looks like downright child’s play when all you’ve got is the finished product.
But as with any creative pursuit, no one ever found success without at least a few rough spots along the way. Even professional writers like Ray Bradbury don’t produce brilliance right off the bat. Bradbury has said, of his early rejected stories, “You look back later and the stuff really is dreadful. It shouldn’t have been bought by anyone.”
It’s easy to forget that a talented guy like Ray Bradbury had his setbacks. We didn’t know who he was back then, so to us, he came into to this world writing beautifully, and getting paid for it. Riiiiight…
I’m reminded of The Shawshank Redemption, a rare cinematic experience in which everything just works. The screenplay is meticulous, and the world-class performance of Tim Robbins as the indefatigable Andy Dufresne certainly doesn’t hurt matters any. Watching Tim Robbins in this film, it’s hard to believe the man has ever had a low moment in his life.
So imagine my surprise when earlier this month I caught a few scenes from Howard the Duck (I’m embarrassed to even type that title). I was expecting the film to be less than impressive; I was not expecting, however, to see a spiky-haired, bespectacled Tim Robbins as nerdy scientist Phil Blumburtt. Gad, even the name is over-the-top.
Apparently, less than ten years before landing the iconic Andy Dufresne, Robbins played a major character in a nonsensical film about a sarcastic humanoid duck, and this was difficult for me to accept. Every time I watch Andy, the wrongfully-accused banker, stretch his arms towards the sky in his first taste of freedom in almost twenty years, no obstacle seems beyond my ability to overcome.
Watching Phil Blumbertt quack like a duck, on the other hand, I just feel… almost dirty.
When young people go into acting, I imagine they do it largely for the Shawshank Redemptions of the world. Just as most aspiring writers dream of producing the next great American novel, what up-and-coming actor doesn’t hope for at least one Andy Dufresne-esque role in his or her future? But how many young kids would major in acting if they knew that at least one Howard the Duck would be waiting for them upon graduation?
But hey…they all can’t be gems. And if you’re uncomfortable with that, you probably won’t make it in whatever creative industry you’ve chosen to pursue.
The next time you find yourself doubting your abilities, take a moment and watch the Ray Bradbury clip that I’ve linked to above. Or better yet, check out Tim Robbins in this embarrassing Howard the Duck clip.
And remember to write badly once in a while–you must be doing something right.
Writer and educator Sara Goas is a graduate of Lycoming College, and she specializes in creating content for the web. Her site saragoas.com has more examples of her work.