“Marilyn Monroe once said, ‘I wasn’t the prettiest. I wasn’t the most talented. I simply wanted it more than anyone else.’ And I sometimes think that I’m just one of the people who comes here every day and does it, even though I don’t feel like it, even though it’s difficult and I feel stupid and brain-dead and unequal to the task….I have known writers over the years, enormously talented, who are so self-conscious about it, who are so terrified of ever writing a bad sentence, that they can’t write anything at all. I think a certain fearlessness in the face of your own ineptitude is a useful tool.”
Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author
When I read this comment, two things leaped out at me. First, the painful honesty of it. And second, the tenacity it reveals. Let’s face it: We all have moments, probably many of them, when we feel exactly the same as Michael sometimes does: Days when we “don’t feel like it,” when we feel uninspired, even “brain-dead” and “unequal to the task before us.”
When we hit rough patches like these, we have to two choices: We can fold our tents and slink away, vowing to fight another day or we can just show up and do the work we’re capable of at the moment, without being self-conscious or self-sabotaging or self-condemnatory about it. Someone who can accept the work that emerges, good or bad.
Which choice do we make? If we walk away because something’s difficult or not going well, we lose the chance to find out where showing some grit and emotional stamina might have taken us. On the other hand, if we show up and keep going, we run the risk of churning out something that’s lackluster and disappointing. Hmmmm…what to do, what to do?
For me, the answer lies here: “I think a certain fearlessness in the face of your own ineptitude is a useful tool.” To my mind, this means that we have to be totally willing to fail, to fall short because with this willingness comes a “fearlessness” that’s freeing. When we allow ourselves to write badly, we also free ourselves to write well. Now that’s writing dangerously. Write on!