“The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself.” – e.e. cummings
So many authors wonder how they’ll finally become ready for the “big time.”
I get it. I’ve wanted to know that for a long time too–to know my writing was good enough to be chosen. That would be such a rush of confidence and confirmation of my gifts.
And while I’ve always wanted to believe, a vast majority of the time, I haven’t believed it.
In fact, I never did until I started to want to understand others more than I wanted to be understood….
The main reason for this was all the pain and fear that was in the way. And like Holden Caufield, I needed more awareness of the larger world and the conversation I would be contributing to.
But I hadn’t yet grasped that larger context.
Unfortunately, today no one has to know about the existing heritage to contribute their ideas. We don’t even have to know what that involves. But it’s still true that to contribute something lasting to the growing cadre of human thought and experience, you must understand the larger conversation.
Because as T.S. Eliot proved: Every new book stands on the shoulders of the heritage that went before it.
I’ve known this, even wanted to utilize it. But for a long time, I didn’t push myself to become educated. I didn’t believe I could contribute in that way.
Maybe some of you know what I’m talking about. For one reason or another, you feel sabotaged by the hole in your heart.
And it isn’t our fault. As I’ve learned, the “hole-hearted” don’t hear (as the whole-hearted do) the inherent worth of their thoughts and feelings. They don’t yet believe they can have influence in their area. Instead, they still hear other things–maybe dismissal, defensiveness, disgust or disrespect that’s crowding that out. Their personal heritage taught them some useless tools, and so even as they try to live, to create, or to write, they struggle not to alternately disregard and overstate their gifts and their voices.
It’s a profound thought that’s taken me years to come to, but I believe the difference between the hole-hearted and whole-hearted is wanting to understand more than you want to be understood.
And how many sad people, and sad books, can be explained by this all-too-common limitation?
Of course, once you experience freedom–maybe in a book, like I did–it changes you. You start to believe. You may still live/create/write to be acknowledged and find more healing, but the work begins revising you. Slowly, a new heritage becomes established and you begin to get glimpses of your power.
I know this first hand. A new heritage has been calling me out of hole-heartedness, preparing me for my time to face the world and make my true contribution.
Many excellent books have added to my knowledge and helped me identify hidden shame and inadequacy. And beyond fear of embarrassment, I’ve found even the least confident writers can escape their safe cave. With practice and study, they can find what they need to pass on to their readers.
It’s been taking shape all this time, this new heritage. Maybe it’s never finished, but I’m convinced I can’t simply write to be heard, known or successful. I need to be an advocate for people just like me. And that doesn’t come through marketing tricks or good networking. It only comes through real care for readers.
I’ve learned so much from How We Love, Changes That Heal, Boundaries, and Get Out of Your Own Way. These are books based on the authors’ life work. I love Brené Brown’s work. And I love Maria Popova’s BrainPickings.org (from which I pilfered this week’s excellent quotes). All this gives me hope that though we struggle to heal and trust our voices, we can get beyond our sabotage.
Through vulnerability (in life and on the page) we learn to believe in ourselves and add our voices to speak for many. I say it all the time: everyone has a story. And it’s true. But you’ve got to seek it and refine it, and you’ve got to believe investing in yourself in that is ultimately about something bigger than just you.
So how do you find the strength to believe that when it gets hard?
My simple answer? God. I believe God is how you find it. I’ve found it’s true: He is all wisdom and all love and all power. And connecting with him, his presence inside, this is how I realize I have all I will ever need to accomplish far more than I can dream or imagine. Let religious folks say that’s humanism, but the faith to believe you have all you need, it’s a gift, and I believe all you have to do is sincerely, humbly and vulnerably ask for it.
Do you believe that? And do you want to do it?
I keep asking myself these questions: Are you open to what your book has to teach you? Can you stay and dedicate to it in the conviction that you’re the only one who can share what you know in your way? And will you follow the markers along the path of your own new heritage to trade it for whatever deficiencies you faced?
If you’ll do that, I believe you’ll find many more people who are desperate for it. We can change the conversation for so many because we’ve been training for this, and through God’s patient grace, he’s gifted us to contribute our lines, if we’ll only decide to persist when the fear comes.
That’s the battle every great story goes through—and that’s always what they’re really about–believing!
I believe that’s ultimately also how they finally get written down–
This belief lives in the soul of humanity, put there by God, and you are already a part of it.
Believe that now, and just make today’s investment of words today, and tomorrow’s tomorrow….
You can do this. Because you were made for this, to fill the hole in your heart and to find the confidence to be the healer you were made to be.
Not because you are better than anyone else, but because you were destined to be.
“Whether you succeed or not, that is irrelevant — there is no such thing. Making your unknown known, that is the important thing.” – Georgia O’Keeffe, in a letter to Sherwood Anderson (emphasis mine)