For the Daydreamers:
The Joys of Being a Beginner,
or What Would the Dread Pirate Roberts Do?
Dear writer friends, I want you to think back to that moment when you first decided, "I AM GOING TO WRITE A BOOK. I AM GOING TO GET PUBLISHED. LET'S DO THIS."
How did you feel?
Perhaps you're still in that phase of amped-up excitement. Perhaps you left it behind years ago. Either way, you know the feeling I mean, right? It's that sense of invincibility. That sense of excitement and new adventure.
And, quite frankly, it's a complete ignorance of just how hard this is actually going to be.
That's not a bad thing -- in fact, it's a beautiful thing. One I am determined to rediscover for my own writing.
As mentioned in a previous newsletter, I recently fell down a coding wormhole. It consumed me for a whole week -- non-stop coding and problem solving. (I was, in case you're curious, coding a very primitive game.)
While I have some background in coding from my science days, this was a new language and I was teaching myself primarily through trial-and-error. When the week began, I threw myself into the project with complete abandon. I had visions of this amazing (albeit quite basic) game that would fill a hole I felt needed filling.
But of course, I had NO IDEA how much ignorant I was.
At first, this didn't bother me. I mean, everything was new. I was aware I had a lot to learn, and there was so much joy in simply figuring out a string of code...and then watching it work. But as the week progressed, as I learned more and more -- and struggled more and more -- the more frustration crept in.
I'm sure you know this feeling, my dear writer friends. That feeling of trying to write a story, trying to create 3D characters, a rich world, believable arcs, etc., but finding (based on your own critical eye or others') that you're simply not hitting the mark.
And of course, it's not just in creative pursuits that we experience this same frustrated slump. I've encountered it in fitness goals, at the dojo, in my DIY skincare creation, in the dating world (back when I still did that), in studying Spanish...then French...then German (none of which am I now proficient at, by the way), in moving to a new country, and the list goes on.
Whenever the joy of a new goal hits the reality of a steep learning curve, then it's inevitable we lose some steam.
Imagine a roller coaster. In order to reach its epic heigh, the car must first slow down and then creeeeeeeeep up a clacking incline. Once it hits that peak, gravity takes hold, and you, the passenger, go screaming down at breakneck speed, enjoying the rush of the fall.
That my friends, is what proficiency feels like. You've slogged through the first part of learning a new coding language or how all the pieces of story interact in a novel or the muscle memory of high blocks and low blocks and round-house kicks.
I got this!
you think, and then you GO GO GO!
Yet after that initial rush of "I AM DOING IT!!!!" we all inevitably hit another incline. Another slog.
And this, my friends, is the most frustrating part of it all, for now you are keenly aware of just how much you still do not know
as well as how far you must actually go to reach your end goal.
On top of that, outside factors start to affect you. For a writer, that's the market itself -- which is completely out of our control, meaning it's not really our choice
if we sell a book or not. For my karate goals, my size will always be a limiting factor, and no matter how hard I work, I'll never be able to beat my sensei. So though we may be proficient at our new craft, being proficient still isn't enough to reach The End.
Basically, when we are beginners, we're as cavalier as Westley. But once we leave that phase behind, we're jaded -- and even afraid -- like Buttercup. We're not entirely sure our goal is
reachable at all.
If you're like me, you miss the days of beginner-hood. You miss feeling that not only are you able to take on a Challenge of Unusual Size, but you're able to kick its butt in record time.
So how do we recapture that invincibility once we know how difficult our goal actually is? Or when we know how much we still have to learn, how far we still have to go? How, how, how do we keep an exasperating sense of, well...of reality from creeping in and zapping our excitement?
If you haven't guessed by now, I'm going to tell you: be like Westley.
No, actually, be like the Dread Pirate Roberts.
Recall, there is no single Dread Pirate Roberts. Instead, multiple people have taken on the persona year after year. When one Dread Pirate Roberts gets tired, he finds a replacement to take up the mantle. Westley happens to be one of those people, and upon learning all he can from the former Dread Pirate Roberts, he dons the black mask and sets off.
And in the movie version of The Princess Bride, it's hinted Inigo Montoya might be next in line.
It's as easy as that. Wanna be a pirate? Sure, why not!
It's all very "fake it until you make it," which frankly, is a pretty good approach. Have you reached the Fire Swamp? Welp, just pretend it's no biggie!
And yes, easier said than done. That's why we FAKE IT.
when we hit a challenge we're 99% sure we can't surmount, instead of saying, "We'll never survive!", we say, "Nonsense. You're only saying that because no one ever has."
There's power in words, and power in recognizing the ones that aren't helpful to us. (This is a major tenet of mindful meditation, btw.) No, you can't stop your brain from thinking the more jaded, negative thoughts. But when you do
think them, you can notice them -- and then have your response ready: "Nonsense. You're only saying that because no one ever has."
Think of it as building up an immunity to iocane powder
. The more you do it, the better you'll get at it.
we're going to go backwards
. We must lose some of the knowledge that no longer helps us -- for there is
such a thing as knowing too much. An example of this would be if I follow publishing trends so closely that I won't write what I love for fear it won't sell. Another example would be if I give up karate because I''ll never be as big, physically, as the dudes I fight every week.
Did I care about that when I was a beginner writer/martial artist? Of course not! And would Dread Pirate Roberts care? NOPE.
Trends have a way of booming and busting, and a book doesn't expire. If my novel doesn't sell today, it might in ten years, and at least I enjoyed the process of creation.
Similarly, karate isn't about winning a fight in the sparring ring. I've always been small, but karate makes me feel strong. Why would I give that up because I'm daunted by how much I suck at fighting much
: remember that there is no timeline on a goal. When you were a beginner, did you immediately quit your day job? Or did you start working and learning in your spare time?
As a society, we've grown to want things now, now, now
, but it is YOUR goal, YOUR timeline. Westley didn't become the Dread Pirate Roberts over night. It took three years (I know this story way
too well), and even then, his plan to reclaim his true love was hardly straight and true.
When we put pressure on things to yield results quickly, we get frustrated -- even depressed -- when it doesn't happen. So DON'T DO THAT. In fact, I urge you to go back to thinking of your goal as a side hustle.
It'll relieve a lot of the pressure, and you'll reshape the narrative from outcome-focused to activity-focused.
it's not the goal, but the journey that counts.
And so, dear friends, if you find yourself missing the days of naive beginner-dom, of eexcitementd invincibility, just ask yourself,
What would the Dread Pirate Roberts do?
And then get back to that side hustle.