I USED TO worry if my writing was any good. I’d nitpick every little thing about it and not share it with the world out of fear it wasn’t good enough.
There was a time in my life being good enough didn’t concern me. It was before I considered myself a writer. I used to write just to write, create just to create — simply out of joy and inspiration.
Is this poem good enough?
There was a girl I dated in high school whom I used to write poetry for. Quite often, while driving down the road, I would be overcome with this undeniable need to write down words. I would pull over on the side of the road to jot down whatever those words were that came to me on a scrap of paper or on my hand.
Eventually I started to carry a notebook in my car at all times and an ink pen and a scrap piece of paper in my pocket — just in case inspiration struck.
Having seen some of my writing from high school, it’s safe to say that most of the poetry I gave this girl probably wasn’t any good. But then again, what is good? Who defines it?
At the time, “good” didn’t matter. What mattered was the inspiration, the undeniable tug of emotions within me I needed to express. I was a Coca Cola bottle bouncing around in the floorboard with the top on ready to fizz.
What constituted “good” never came to mind then. I refined what I wrote to a degree and I had my own standards; only, I didn’t place those standards next to others. I didn’t compare my writing.
Comparing your writing to someone else is the ultimate killer of creation.
As teenage relationships often do, we broke up. A few months later I started dating someone else. She asked me to write a poem for her, knowing I had written poetry for the other girl.
But when I dipped the pen into the well of inspiration, I found the poetry within me had all but dried up.
I forced a poem out of me. One of the few things I remember is that it had the word “buzzard” in it, which I find a bit humorous now. Metaphorically it was about how I had been left for dead, the buzzards to pick at my bones, and this girl had revived me from the dead and taken me to safety.
I know. Terrible.
I remember thinking at the time how this may have been the single worst piece of writing I had ever produced. Then I reluctantly gave it to my new girlfriend.
Although the poetry dried up for a time, I never forgot how putting my thoughts down in writing made me feel.
Regardless of the emotion, positive or negative, the simple act of writing was liberating. It drew the love and the pain out of me in equal parts; and although I would abandon it briefly between ages 17 and 20, most lost dogs always find their way home.
One day, years later, while sitting at the basketball court, this same notebook served up the beginnings of a story I didn’t know I had within me.
As I started writing that story, another story came to me.
The day my friend Jeremiah died, after I got off the phone with Robbie, I walked back inside my apartment at Gooch/Dillard on the campus of UVA, sat down at my computer and cried.
Then I began writing without hunger or sleep to interrupt me, a flood of memories welling up in me that had started all those years ago in that green notebook that once sat in the backseat of my car.
The writing question isn’t “Am I good enough,” It’s “must I?”
Writes the famed poet and novelist Rilke:
Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.
This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple ‘I must,’ then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.
My answer to this question — must I write — is unequivocally yes; and I remind myself that this is the question I should ask myself each day as I open my notebook and start writing. Not “is it any good?” And, that’s all that should matter to any writer.
And this applies to anything that liberates you in life, be it music, singing, dancing, hiking, running, biking, whatever.
Is your writing any good? Who cares! Do it anyway.