When I was a kid, I loved to draw. You know those eight-year-old artistic prodigies, whose creative genius defies the limitations of their youth and blows society’s expectations right out of the water? Yeah, I wasn’t one of those. In fact, I was objectively terrible. Some of the other kids managed to color lightly and evenly, but I gripped those crayons tight and pushed them eagerly onto the paper as if the extra energy could make the colors brighter and prettier somehow. Mostly it just made things messier, but I didn’t mind. I was a child, and the wonderful thing about being a child is the ability to enjoy an activity whether or not you’re good at it. So I enjoyed the heck out of those crayons, filling notebook after notebook with drawings and scribbles. I had this hobby of keeping lists of favorite words, and some of the ones I liked the most I tried to illustrate, taking delight in capturing the nuances of “exquisite” with a lopsided yellow, pink, and green butterfly. I’d carry my notebook and crayons around with me, my favorite toys instead of the dolls and kitchen play sets that my little sister liked. Those clumsy drawings of beautiful words were my idea of fun, even though I never showed them to anyone.
Then I grew up, and the uncomplicated pleasure of drawing was forgotten when I learned how important it was to be excellent in whatever you choose to do. In high school, I had several classmates who were incredibly artistic, and I was content with admiring their talent while focusing on my own skills. I wrote more, realizing that it was something that came naturally to me, and drove myself to be better. The more I learned, the more I became aware of how very far I still have to go.
Most of the time, that awareness is a really good thing, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, since I realized that writing is something I’d like to do seriously, not just as a hobby, I’ve been racked with insecurity. Freelancing and ghostwriting jobs are fine, as they don’t really require personal vulnerability, but creative writing? The kind of writing I long to do won’t let me play it safe when it comes to emotional commitment. And I worry that even if I find the courage, my skill might not be up to the task of creating something worth publishing. Suddenly it’s not just about self-expression and storytelling, but about gaining the public’s approval. And it paralyzes me.
It’s wrong; I know it’s wrong. The best books I’ve ever read were those written honestly, bravely, with no thought to critics, awards, or sales. As a reader I know when courage and truth are on the page, and when gimmicks and crowd-pandering are used as substitutes. No matter how excellent the technique, the first fires me up while the second leaves me cold. I know which kind of writing I want to do.
I need inspiration. I need to remind myself of the simple pleasure of doing something and not thinking about how others might respond. Excellence is important, yes, and I will pursue it all my life. But it’s no substitute for heart. It’s no substitute for finding joy in creativity in itself without worrying that I’m not as talented as others are. No matter what I do, there will always be someone who can do it better. It doesn’t mean I should stop doing what I love. I need to remember this.
So I think I should buy myself some crayons. I’ll get the biggest box with seven shades of every color, the nostalgic smell of wax, and memories of uncomplicated joy. I haven’t done this in years and I’m sure I’ll be as bad at drawing as ever, but who cares? I’ll go draw myself some words.