I wrote a little while ago about making mistakes and how it seems to be hard to do so because everywhere you look, we’re being told how to do literally everything better/smarter/faster/more efficiently, so there’s no excuse to not have, say, a perfect, traffic-attracting, lead-generating blog from the start.
But the fact is, it is a process and no one’s going to do things perfectly right away. “It” being whatever it is you’re doing — a blog, an Etsy shop, a business, raising a family, writing a book, anything. No matter what, you’re going, at the very least, pursue a few different directions, try some things that don’t quite work as well as you thought they would, or experiment a little before settling into something that brings you some success (however you ultimately decide to define that).
And the thing that really sucks now is we all pretty much have to do that very, very publicly.
In my lit courses in college, we occasionally spoke about and sometimes even read a little of an author’s juvenilia. This is the stuff written in his youth — the early essays, stories, poems he wrote while still learning his craft. He might have shared some of these with teachers or friends, but — in most cases — they weren’t published, at least not until after his death. We might read some of Tennyson’s or Keats’ or Whitman’s early work in class through that lens. We wouldn’t judge early Whitman against “Leaves of Grass;” we’d compare the two to see how his thoughts and philosophies, as well as his mastery of language, evolved over his lifetime.
But now, when everything is captured and put online instantly, often without context, we’ve lost the luxury to let ourselves develop and not publish until we’ve reached a certain level of mastery. I’m told now that a well-read blog and strong social media following is basically a requirement to getting a traditional book deal (i.e., through an agent and established publisher). So if I want that (and I do), I basically have to spend time putting words up here, even when I know they’re not that good, when I’m very much in the “the gap,” as Ira Glass puts it, until I’ve managed to write something worthy of publication. Or I wait and write on my own until I have that book, and then spend years building a following and creating my “brand,” before an agent is willing to look at it. (And by then, I’ll ideally have improved even more and will be capable of writing a better book.)
Every stinker of a post, every poorly-constructed analogy, every venture into a slightly different voice, every re-brand as you discover new fonts, every time you re-organize your categories and tags. The “mistakes,” big and small, the awkward fumbling as you try to find the words for an idea you just can’t adequately express…it’s all out there. For everyone and anyone to see and judge. Out of context.
That’s the thing — it’s one thing to, as we did in lit class, read a poem understanding it was written when the poet was only 17, before he traveled to Europe and met Gertrude Stein or whatever. It’s another thing to pick a post out of Google and think “this person sucks as a writer” without noting that the post is five years old or the second post ever on a blog.
Instead of getting to practice my writing in private, or with a trusted circle of friends or peers, I’m putting out stuff that sometimes I wish wasn’t so public in the name of getting that practice in. I’m sure there are benefits to that, but…you know how sometimes you watch child actors who start on a TV show around age 10 or so, and then everyone gets to watch them grow into an awkward young teenager, and you’re just like “man, I’m glad millions of people weren’t watching me every week when I was 14”?
On a much smaller level, it’s kinda like that.