I don’t need to be David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace Copy

I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until only a few years ago. I had known for a while that I was technically capable of writing a coherent sentence. I knew I could string along several coherent sentences together into paragraphs and paragraphs together into a cohesive piece. I even knew I somewhat enjoyed the process, writing out my thoughts and sculpting them down to something at least somewhat articulate and of value.

But only in the last few years have I felt a sense of yearning to write, to really explore and prod my mind to its reaches, express myself.

I spent the first year of my writing “career” simply getting over the fear of putting my ideas out into the world. I’d sit in front of a blank screen for hours imagining all the possible criticisms, all the inconsistencies, all the flaws in this thing I was trying to create on the screen in front of me. It paralyzed me. Seriously, I could not get myself to just do it.

I sensed that in order to full step into Writing, I’d need to kill some idea of me – or some idea I thought others had of me – as pleasant, mild-mannered, polite, likeable. I’d need to explore some ideas or perspectives that others found dangerous or naive. I’d need to be shitty at it, before I ever had a chance of being any good.

And then, somehow, after forcing myself to press “Publish” enough, I seemed to get over it. I stopped caring – as much – about what some Facebook “friend” thought of me. I stopped even really thinking about it. There was some new roadblock in my head that kept all that noise out. I started caring more about what I thought of myself, whether I was truly living my potential and expressing myself authentically.

Yet now, I find myself enmeshed in an even more dangerous mental downward spiral: wanting to be good. Wanting to be an Artist. I find that every piece I publish, I now think more of whether my pieces are good.

And I found an odd way of accomplishing this.

Step 1: Identify the best writer I know, in my case, David Foster Wallace. Step 2: Ask “Am I as good a writer as him?” Step 3: If you’re not as good, conclude that it’s not worth doing and beat yourself up, hopefully eventually losing the will to do it at all. Repeat.

I, of course, always conclude immediately that no, I’m not as good as David Foster Wallace, as any reasonable person would. I pale in comparison. My pieces are often overly simplistic, sometimes half-baked, sometimes overwrought, clunky, devoid of anything new or unique to say, lacking artistry or personality. I find myself swimming in a sea of self-criticism. At best, my writing will be passable, proficient, but never good.

I use this realization to spin a story that people are laughing at me, that I’m not good enough, that I’m wasting my and everyone else’s time, that I’d be better off doing something less creative or ambitious.

My mind has given me that idea that I’m passionate about writing. It has then shown me all the ways others will judge me for it. It then shows me how bad I am at it, how my writing will always be flawed, not good enough. It has set me up perfectly to be miserable and to crawl back into my hole and be safe and small.

This is my resistance. It’s that piece inside me that begs, then insists, then manipulates, then shames me into staying the old me.

I am not as good a writer as David Foster Wallace. I don’t need to be as good as David Foster Wallace. I don’t need to change the world with my devastating insight and wit. There are writers with far less talent than he who still contribute something of value.

But more importantly, if by some miracle I did hone my talents to somehow approximate Wallace’s genius, my mind would still come up with another reason to not do the work. It would find a way to manipulate me into thinking I’m not good enough. It will do whatever it can to protect itself from criticism.

My work is not to be as good a writer as David Foster Wallace. My work is not even to be a good writer. My work is to vanquish the resistance, to quiet my mind, and simply capture whatever emerges through the silence.

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