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What If My Writing Isn't Good How To Combat The Emily Dickinson Syndrome
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I recently had a student ask me a profound question. After chugging along excitedly for a month on a first draft of a new screenplay, he had found himself paralyzed by a terrifying question:
"What if it isn't GOOD?"
I think we can all imagine his horror-- the kind of horror only a writer can feel, after pouring everything you've got into something that may not turn out to be what you dreamed it would be.
The horror of not knowing. And possibly, not wanting to know...
This is what I like to call the "Emily Dickinson Syndrome"-- the urge to hide your writing away where you can never find out what's good or bad about it.
It's the same urge that keeps writers from finishing some of their best projects, for fear of not living up to their own expectations.
It's that same little voice in your head that comes up with the excuse just when you're ready to sit down to write, sign up for a writing class, or get your script out to an agent or producer.
It's the fear of being judged as NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
Let me say this loud and clear:
In order to write well. You have to be willing to write badly. And you've got to be willing to show your work, not always knowing how people are going to respond.
Writing is a lot like mining. It's hard work. You can't always see where you're going. You've got to sort through a lot of stuff. And most of it's not gold.
But if you don't bring it up to the surface where others can see it, you'll never know what you have.
Becoming a great writer is not about having some kind of secret blessing that other people are missing. It's about generating as many pages as you can, and getting really good at noticing the flashes of brilliance within them.
As you become more skilled at excavation, you'll learn how to follow these unpolished nuggets and shimmering dust until you find the big vein of gold you're really looking for. That's the moment when your script suddenly seems to be writing itself.
You've just got to be willing to do a lot of digging to get there.
And every once in awhile, you've got to take a step back from the process, come up for air, and check out what you've got.
The question is, where will you surface?
To really know if your writing is working, you've got to show it to people who know what they're talking about.
To the untrained eye, gold doesn't look a lot like gold. In fact, it looks a lot more like rock. But when it's polished, shined, hammered, and shaped, its value is unmistakable.
Don't get your initial feedback from just anybody. Get it from someone who's at least as good an excavator as your are. Take a class. Find a professional. Or you may end up throwing out your best scenes, simply because they're not yet polished enough for a layman's eyes.
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