‘What’s stopping you is not knowledge, it’s fear.’ Our creative writing agony aunt and Write Like a Grrrl founder Kerry Ryan shares why it’s never too late to take a leap of faith and follow your passion.
I have always loved to write, it’s part of who I am, and something my friends and family always say about me, ‘oh but you’re such a good writer’. The thing is I’ve never been a ‘real’ writer. I’m in my early thirties and while I’ve had a few blogs here and there, and did some freelance in my early twenties, I’ve really only ever worked in a corporate environment, with copywriting always being just one part of my job.
Maybe the pandemic has encouraged it, but I have this, now overwhelming, desire to be a ‘real’ writer. I want to leave my current job and fulfil this need inside me to write full time but the idea is terrifying. I haven’t had anything published that isn’t tied to my corporate job in almost 8 years. Am I too old and inexperienced for this?
If there’s any advice you can give I’d be so grateful.
Late In The Game
Dear Late in the Game,
The pandemic has made us intimate with the precariousness of life and forced us to really see what is always true: how precious our finite hours are. In The Five Invitations, Frank Ostaseki distills what he learned supporting thousands of dying patients at the Zen Hospice in San Franscisco. One of his five invitations, or five guiding principles, is: Don’t Wait. Don’t wait to say or do or be. Live it now. Follow your passions. Do not wait.
You love writing, it’s part of you, and yet you’re terrified to take the leap. Fear is a compass. The noise in our head—the resistance—is a compass. As Beth Pickens points out, it tells us when we are onto something—when we are about to do something important or personal or real; when we’re about to do something that might make a difference. Your inner critic has latched onto your age to prevent you from following your heart. Even if mid-thirties was old, editors don’t care about your age, they care about your pitch. As for experience, every freelancer has to start somewhere. By now, you’ll know the ins and outs of how best to get that experience and how to manage financial considerations and everything else. But what’s stopping you is not knowledge, it’s fear. Will it work out? Maybe. Maybe not. There are no guarantees.
So let’s say you ‘fail’. Failures–career or otherwise–have taught me so much. Though if someone had said this to me while I was mid-fail, I’d have been tempted to punch them. If you go for this and fail, what will you have learned? Skills too numerous to list here. It may hurt, yes, but pain doesn’t have to become pathology if we have the internal and external resources to help us cope, to feel the pain, to learn from it and move on.
“We learn that no matter what editors think of our stories, our novels, our pitches, we remain our loveable, wonderful selves and that those who love us continue to love us.”
Georgia O’Keefe said that she was absolutely terrified every moment of her life but she never allowed it to stop her from doing a single thing she wanted to do. I’ve written before about how the inner critic is trying to keep us safe yet keeps us stunted. By listening to the inner critic, by listening to fear, we build the bars of our own cage and then pace around mournfully looking out at others doing all the things. Yet for some of us, our inner critic is so awful, unleashing such an onslaught whenever we ‘fail’ that it’s no wonder we avoid taking action and stay ‘safe’ by staying small. For some, ‘failure’ can bring up big ugly feelings from the past tied to trauma/poverty/family/school. It’s important then to have the support we need so we don’t become overwhelmed, yet can still move towards the life we want and deserve. The only way out is through.
Writers of all stripes need support. This might be therapy, coaching, mentoring, and should include a robust self-care practice and access to a supportive community. As any writer will tell you, becoming freelance means becoming intimate with fear and uncertainty while having to be your own cheerleader and line manager. It’s wise then to make sure you’re not the pass-agg, smiling assassin kind of boss who makes you run to the bar every Thursday for a bucket of white wine and a big cry.
When we’re rejected and use all the self-care skills we’ve developed, we show ourselves that we’re capable, resilient and can survive and even thrive. We learn that no matter what editors think of our stories, our novels, our pitches, we remain our loveable, wonderful selves and that those who love us continue to love us. Those waves come and knock us down but instead of lying there kicking and screaming, wondering why me?, we feel our feels, use our skills, call on our support network and get back up. Soon, we don’t kick and scream anymore. We jump right up, keep on keeping on, and, in time, the waves no longer knock us down.
Why not frame this career change as a period of learning to manage those waves? Why not view it as a time to develop resilience and self-compassion as well as a million skills in networking, communication, creative thinking and all the rest of it? Give it everything you’ve got. Put your whole heart into it. Go for it with gusto and be on the watch for the self-sabotage move of doing things half-arsed. But don’t measure your worth by whether it works out as you hoped. There is only so much you can control.
If through this experience, you learn to stop listening to the inner critic and love yourself fiercely, face fear and uncertainty and become ok with both, you’ll be all the richer for it. No matter what.
Sending love and power
Struggling with a submission? Lost your writing mojo? Get some advice from Kerry and feed your creative muse. Submit your question to us using the contact form below.
Kerry is the founder of Write like a Grrrl, which offers creative writing courses for women & NB in partnership with For Books’ Sake in the UK. Kerry’s Write like a Grrrl courses are now taught all over the world and Kerry has facilitated workshops across the UK, in Ireland and Russia. She has taught mindfulness and self-compassion as well as creative writing to actors, women leaving sex work, domestic abuse survivors and facilitated many LGBTQ+ creative writing courses. Her work has been featured in various publications including Steer, The Manchester Review, the Kenyon Review and Spilling Ink. Her play Trust was recently performed at the Gulbenkian Theatre.
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