My seventh grade science teacher had a poster on her desk that declared, “The only stupid question is the one not asked.” The junior high cynic in me would roll her eyes every time she passed that poster. Because there were stupid questions, in my opinion. Questions that showed you didn’t do the reading or weren’t listening in class. Stupid questions that made you look stupid.
I didn’t ask stupid questions, of course, because I was a classic overachiever – straight A student, homework always done immaculately, turning in extra credit assignments even though my class average was already 100. Hermione Grainger minus the cool wizard cred. Being a smart kid wasn’t easy, but it was simple. Study hard, ace the test, rinse and repeat.
Finding my way as a writer was a completely different journey. I’ve discovered that there is no linear path in the writing world – or any artistic endeavor for that matter. There’s no A+ waiting for you when your script is done. What you’ve written can always be rewritten and reworked – there is no definitive finish line. It’s up to you to decide when your writing is ready for the next step, and that knowing is always nebulous. More often than not, it never feels good enough. Being a writer means living in a perpetual state of flux.
When I started to write, my overachieving spirit went into shock and panic. The academic rug had been pulled out from under me. How in the world was I supposed to know when my writing was good enough? Who was I meant to impress and seek approval from? What was my end game and how did I get there? The number of unknowns and lack of structure were unbearable.
What helped me push through this uncomfortable transition was ultimately time, plus the phrase “writers write.” Because that is really the only job expectation of a writer. To write. Often and copiously. Every day if possible. Every word you write makes you a better writer and leads you toward the one true goal – moving forward.
Every word that you don’t write because you’re afraid you’re not good enough, or because you’re giving in to that phenomenon-that’s-really-an-excuse “writer’s block,” you’re not learning, you’re not accumulating a body of work, and you’re not moving forward. You’re standing still.
Which brings me back to that poster in my seventh grade science classroom – “The only stupid question is the one not asked.” I’ve translated this into my own catchphrase – the only bad script/story/pilot is the one you haven’t written yet. One anonymous philosopher put it another way – “The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn’t write.”
I’ve learned to free myself from the comforting constraint of grades and testing and embrace the freedom in the absence of structure. I’m constantly reminding myself not to let my self-doubt or self-judgment stop me from moving forward with my work. I’ve written several pilots and stories that probably aren’t very good, but I know that every single one of them was a learning experience that gave me more confidence for my next project.
As an artist, I only have one assignment to ace. Keep writing. Keep creating. Keep moving forward.