There’s debates about who said it or who said it first, but somewhere sometime someone said that every writer has to write a million words of shit before they’ll write anything any good. The number itself is largely a metaphor for the fact that in everything in life, we get good by doing. And the more we do (either in intensity or duration or both), the more skilled we get at that thing.
Just as in life, every writer wants to be good because they know the tools. They know the alphabet, so they have their hammer; and they’ve read sentences–which is like watching a house being built–so that’s where they start. But it’s absurd to think they’ll be as good of a carpenter on that first job as they’ll be in 25 years.
That logic applies to anything. The conscious person who learns with intensity learns more than someone with less intensity, and someone conscious who puts in more time also learns more than someone who puts in less time or who uses less consciousness. This is is true of writing, cooking, raising kids, teaching, or–yes–living.
Living is a skill. So yeah, physically and mentally you eventually deteriorate, so maybe your life-work gets a bit sloppy near the end, but by then everyone’s forgiving you. But otherwise you just get better and better at living life every year you live it, and the more conscious you are the more your learn. That’s all well and good. The problem comes in when you want the wisdom before you’ve even had the experiences that teach it.
Your expectations of yourself and your life start off pretty wacky. Because you can edit your writing you think you can edit life. And because of that you’ll go through these periods where you’ll feel like you’re totally failing because you’ll be nowhere near your targets and you can’t fix your past. But it’s not your life that’s the problem, or your ability to edit; it’s your expectation that you would know things before you learned them. You do that all the time and yet it’s truly crazy.
Graceful living requires only one thing: live the moment you’re in fully and presently. That means being in it and aware of it, rather than thinking about what-ifs or regrets. Things going in challenging ways aren’t failures, that’s just the texture of the surface you’re climbing. And when you reach the summit of your own peak–your own death–you’ll have a better understanding that you weren’t supposed to climb the highest mountain or the hardest–you were just supposed to climb. Which mountain you started on never really mattered.
You will know more tomorrow than today, and today you know more than you knew yesterday. If you go back and rethink and rethink over and over, re-editing all of your life’s work, you’ll never get much writing done and you won’t get much living lived.
Trust that as the writer writes, the writer improves. Forget the early pages. They’re both written and read. Because that’s the other important thing; other people will only glance at your book just as you’ll only glance at theirs. You might read deeply into maybe half a dozen books in your life. Because it turns out these weren’t being written to be read, the were written for the writing’s sake.
Stop worrying about your mistakes and just write–just live. You were never supposed to be perfect. You were just supposed to be here. That in and of itself, is perfect.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.