Permission: Write.one.single.word.
Contributor
Written by
Lisa Benter Rich
December 2011
Contributor
Written by
Lisa Benter Rich
December 2011

This story is part of a series on Writing and Permission that was commissioned by Cori Howard, the instructor of the SheWrites 

online class, Writing for Moms. The topic evolved in one of her online forums in which women started to discuss how hard it was

to give themselves permission to write and to be writers. These are the stories they came up with. The next session of SheWrites

Online Writing for Moms starts in January. Click here for more registration and more details. Or email [email protected] 

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When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an astronaut.  I dreamed of studying science and someday flying off on a space shuttle and landing on Mars.  And then I found out that most astronauts don’t actually get to fly into space.  If they are lucky, they work for NASA in mission control.  The odds of actually going into space are slim to none. 

When I was a little bit older, I dreamed of being a paleontologist.  Me and Indiana Jones, digging through dirt to find the connection between caveman and modern man.  Then I found out I could dig through dirt all my life and never find a single bone, caveman, modern man or chicken.  

I majored in accounting instead.  The odds were much greater to become a Certified Public Accountant than to be the next John Glenn or Indiana Jones.

That is the story of my life.  Take the safe route.  Do what comes natural and easy.  Not that I was a math whiz when I decided to major in accounting, but contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need to be a math whiz to be an accountant.  That’s what calculators are for.

I call my problem “Paralyzed by Perfection.”  Maybe I read it in Oprah’s magazine, saw it on Dr. Phil, or maybe I just invented it myself.  In any case, it’s a bit of a problem when you want to stretch yourself and push your limits.

And now I find myself a stay-at-home mom of three school-aged children and I’m trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life...or at least what the next phase will be.  I enjoy writing.  I want to be a writer.  I chronicle bits and pieces of my life and want to put them all together.  I have lots of ideas for novels floating around in my head.  I would love to write a book.

Here’s the problem:  I want a New York Times best seller.  I want to see my book on the front table of Chapters or Barnes & Noble.  I want it to be featured as a Target Bookmarked selection.  But first I have to write something.  Anything.  And that’s where the hard part comes in.  I have to write something.  You can’t write a novel of any caliber, New York Times best seller or bargain bin clearance at Big Lots, if you don’t actually write one.single.word.

I have to give myself permission to write one single word.  And then another.  And another.  I have to give myself permission to write something that may very well be crap.  I have to let go of the desire to be perfect.  To be the best.  To not fail.  Because writing is a process.  It is not possible to just sit down and type and type and type and then, voila!, publish a best selling novel.

It’s easy to say I can’t write today because there are dishes in the sink, laundry in the hamper, kids needing rides to hockey practice, a book fair to run at school.  It’s easy to say that’s why I can’t write today.  The real reason I don’t write today is because I am afraid what I write will not be perfect.  All those other things are just excuses for why I can’t write.  It’s not that I can’t write, it’s that I don’t write.  The truth is, I can write today.  I can write something.  I can write one word.  And another.  And another.  And accept the fact that the writing may be not very good.  It may be bad.  It may, in fact, be terrible.  I need to give myself permission to write something that is not the best.  Because tomorrow is another day and I can write another word then.  And follow that with another. And another.  And maybe, one day, I will write something that is publishable.  That someone else wants to read.  I just need to give myself permission to begin. 

What holds you back from writing?  What stops you from trying new things everyday?  When I told my son I was going to have my writing posted on a blog today, he said “So, are you going to be an author today?  Are you an author?  I'm going to tell my friends at school that my mom is an author.”  And I said yes.  Yes, I am an author.  I am a writer today and every day.  Are you?

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To sign up for the next session of Writing for Moms, an online SheWrites class, please click here or email [email protected]

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Comments
  • Sue Urie

    Yes indeed you are a writer....and a fabulous one at that:)  Great post....

  • Chloe Diaz de Bedoya

    Thank you for speaking your truth. It really rings a bell with me. I am a mother to a two year old, and although very busy, I know my reasons for not writing as much as I'd like are much deeper than the dishes in the sink, or laundry that needs to be done. I some how feel I am not a good enough writer to do justice to my own story, or the characters in my story. Since I am writing Memoir these characters are my parents, my siblings, my mentors. I just want to do my own life story justice, and in my head it usually needs to be perfect, so I stop, frozen with expectation, and this moves me away from my writing. Self-compassion perhaps could go a long way. Thanks for putting your ideas out there, they gave me comfort tonight as I was laying down to bed, wondering how I will ever get my book written. Chloe

  • Lisa Sypher

    Thank you! Wonderful words of wisdom. I'm not a mom, but I am a perfectionist. You said it all so well. Thanks again.

  • This post is funny, true, and great! And boy, can I relate.

    You may have already seen Ira Glass's short video on creativity and beginners (link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI23U7U2aUY). Here is a quote, in which he talks about the problem you're facing, and the solution (which, of course, is to keep going):

    “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” 
    ― Ira Glass

  • Sherrie McCarthy

    My partner always tells me that I am a writer that is under the table, afraid to come out and tell people that I am a writer.  The very fact that I am finally starting to commit to (and whisper softly) being a writer is a huge step for me. But I think it goes beyond even wanting to be perfect. When you write you show your soul to the world, and to think of anyone stomping on that.... ARGH. That and people tend to scoff or laugh when you say you write. (I have since learned that these are people who have given up on their own dreams and therefore want to attack the dreams of others), either way, you tend to want to protect yourself, which is where the perfect comes in.  But I think if we were in a place where we could safely share, then we would all be faster to label ourselves writers.  Which is why I love SheWrites.  :-P

  • Sherrey Meyer

    I love your son's wisdom at such a young age! His unconditional love and pride should be enough to get you to write.one.single.word and more. But I share your problem of "Paralyzed by Perfection." I have been all my life. I wanted to please other with absolutely perfect work product in my job, in my home, my church, my life. And what has it gotten me? I'm a 65-year old great-grandma, retired from a law firm, and always wanting to write.  In retirement, I'm still stuck in the "I don't have time today" syndrome of excuses.  You've given me a new mantra -- Permission = write.one.single.word!  Thanks so much!

  • Sarah Marxer

    Good for your son! His response to your post is quite inspiring.

    This is a lovely exploration of how perfectionism hinders us.