The Skull Speaks

I’ve played with this chattering skull for forty years.

Yesterday I started a new story, called (for now) “Put Another Nickel In” and got about a thousand words on the page. The main character finally gave me his a name, Hunch, and I hit my word count goal. It’s a solid day’s work, considering the new habit I aim to build of writing a thousand words per day, every day, following the example of this Ray Bradbury quote:

“I’m accustomed, you see, to getting up every morning, running to the typewriter, and in an hour I’ve created a world. I don’t have to wait for anyone. I don’t have to criticize anyone. It’s done. All I need is an hour, and I’m ahead of everyone. The rest of the day I can goof off. I’ve already done a thousand words this morning; so if I want to have a two or three-hour lunch, I can have it, because I’ve already beat everyone.”

Consistency over quantity. The other way hasn’t seemed to work for me.

At some point in the night, though, I realized that Hunch wasn’t alone. I don’t mean all the monsters he’s tasked with keeping in their enchanted sleep, but as far as a true companion. There was someone else in that chamber of horrors, if I would only listen. Like Hunch and his monsters, though, I went to sleep.

When I got back to the keyboard this morning, I started by cycling back through those first thousand words and trying harder to hear what the story was telling me. Just a few paragraphs in, I found that missing party: Jaw, a talking skull in the corner of the room.

I kept writing, going back through yesterday’s words and continuing on to new story, all while listening more closely, and hearing his voice. He had plenty to say.

In the end, I hit my thousand-word count for a second day, found a new character, and learned more about the world I’m exploring.

I think that’s a fine definition of a successful day.

Bradbury quote taken from his essay “Shooting Haiku in a Barrel”, collected in Zen in the Art of Writing

Confidence and Creativity

A confident crew.

Creativity requires some level of confidence.

In its highest form, creativity requires reaching deep within and sharing your findings with the world. That kind of sharing, honest and vulnerable, takes a certain measure of confidence to pull off.

When I first began writing, I wrote with a carefree confidence. It wasn’t that I had any notion I was a good writer, but because I had no reason to believe I wasn’t. It was like the confidence of a child, that innocence you have before someone tells you ducks just can’t be blue. I wish we could all hold that confidence for life.

The world would be better for it.

It wasn’t long into my writing journey that I sought feedback on my work. I joined a writer’s group to improve my craft, quickly learning I wasn’t actually a good writer yet. I needed to read this book on craft, and that one, and maybe I should consider a class or two.

My confidence vanished.

Through it all grew an odd paradox. While my first few works had garnered positive feedback from editors, and even an honorable mention in an international competition, my next several stories fell far short.

Worse, I wasn’t enjoying the stories myself. They felt flat and lifeless, and they got the flat and lifeless rejections they deserved. But worst of all, in losing my confidence, I also lost everything that had made those early stories feel like me.

Don’t get me wrong. I definitely needed to improve my craft. Without craft I wouldn’t have the skills needed to take my good stories and make them great.

But without confidence, I was no longer starting from a good story at all. I was starting from uninspired work, and craft alone can’t fix that. Craft isn’t inspiration, it’s the tools to make that inspiration shine. You have to have something to work with first.

I wish I had something more insightful to share here, some moment or epiphany that helped me get that confidence back. I don’t.

But somewhere along the line I realized I didn’t really like my own stories anymore, so it made sense nobody else would. I realized that at least when I was writing those early works I enjoyed them, even if they weren’t quite good enough for publication. And I wasn’t getting published now anyway. I wasn’t even getting more than form rejections anymore.

I needed to get that confidence back.

So I started writing for me again. I stopped thinking about writing a good story, and just wrote a story I liked. I tried to dig deeper within, tried being as much myself as I could be, and while it wasn’t a magic shortcut to publication, it did get me back into a stream of personal and promising feedback from major markets.

Best of all, writing was fun again, and I enjoyed the process and my stories.

This stream of memories came rushing back recently while I was watching Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary Get Back. There’s a part where George Harrison seems to really be struggling with his playing, or rather, struggling in comparing himself to Eric Clapton. It hit me as a shocking lack of confidence from a guitarist I’d grown up knowing as one of the all-time greats.

Clapton is an amazing guitarist, sure, but this is George Harrison we’re talking about. How in the world was this guy lacking confidence?

Still, somewhere inside, beneath that insecurity, George still had the confidence that his best route forward was being himself. He could only be himself.

“I can only do me, that one way, however I do it.”

George Harrison

And it was in being himself that he was able to create some of his best work.

Creating your best work takes digging deep inside and being vulnerable in revealing what you find there. And that takes confidence.

Confidence doesn’t come without fear, though. It’s a counter to fear. Like courage. It’s leaping before you look, believing in yourself to stick the landing. It’s jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.

True confidence isn’t knowing that others will love your work, it’s knowing that you love your work, and that’s all that matters.

Of course, if you truly love your work, others will, too. The right others.

Those are the readers you can make a real connection with. A deep and true connection.

Right from your vulnerability to theirs.

Harrison quote from The Beatles: Get Back