In the Shadow of Giants: An Essay on Feeling Inadequate
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Out of my circle of friends, I am the one that creates the least. I like the background, the logistics, the support-system of the art community far more than I like creating, but perhaps some of that stems from my fear of writing simply because I don't think I'm good enough, or worthy, or that I am allowed to write in a community where there are giants who stand skyscrapers taller than me, who say words bigger than me, who mean things I wish I could mean and feel a big sad pit feeling in my stomach that I can't. I have friends who read their work to me, rough drafts and concepts, and I can’t help but cry. The people I surround myself with are gifted beyond belief, so much that at times I find myself brimming with self-doubt, wondering how in the world I can even continue to write when there are people so much better than me. It’s the giants I’m talking about, the biggest figures in the box I live in, and in their shadows I find myself shrinking, sometimes, and there are times I worry I’ll wink out and disappear completely.
I have a friend, Peter, who is one of the best writers I've ever read, who, when he shows me his work, makes me awed at the fact that its creator is sitting right in front of me, being real. How do I have the right to take up space in the writing world, when this person before my eyes is so much better than me? How can I hope to express an idea when he can do it better than I ever could? Peter and I are in a fiction class together, and in this class our next assignment is to write a story previously written, from the point of view of another character. That other character, in my story, is Peter, and it's one of the most terrifying prospects I've ever faced: trying to write from the point of view of someone who I've known for so long, who knows me better than I know myself and who says things ten thousand times more eloquently than I can. How do I write the mind of someone I am no parallel to? I can't. I would be an imposter.
And this sort of fear isn't solely in the literary world -- it's in every profession. We have mentors, we have people older and more experienced than us and sometimes they make us feel bad by just being good at what they do, but isn't that what we want, too? To be so good at something that other people look to us for answers? No one in a supportive art community wants to make anyone else feel terrible about themselves or their art, and I know for damn sure that's the case with Peter.
When discussing the prospect of writing a story from his point-of-view, he told me, straight-faced and with an earnestness I hardly hear from anyone, "I can't write what's in your head. No one can." And while it may be a basic truth and some may choose to take it that way, I instead saw his blessing within those words. A great writer, admitting he can't write what's in my head? It made me feel good, and most of all, capable.
It's easy to let ability get to one's head. I know I did, when I won two measly awards in high school for my writing. I was not supportive. I was the best of what they had, so I thought, and I wanted to stay that way, and maybe that's why I fell so low, to where I hardly write at all for fear of not being good, not being unique, but mostly out of the concern that I have no right writing when there are other people out there who do it better than I do. Peter gave me the same sort of courage that he had to give himself years before, when he feared that his writing was not worthy of existing when compared to one of his writing idols, a friend he'd met online. But he worked, he worked to get better because he felt that way, and he transcended the fear. And now, to compare their writings is to compare trees to sand. Both are important, necessary, but not the same. They went down two branches of the same path, and the world is better for it. And for anyone who wonders whether their writing is good enough, or needed: it can be. The goal is to work until you feel you can stand next to the giants without trembling. Okay, maybe you’ll still tremble, a little bit, but the point is that you feel confident enough to be near them, to have your work associated with theirs.
The point is, you cherish and you learn. And in learning, you cherish yourself. You must make yourself a half-canvas, where those you admire can paint and splat and smear, and you learn and take what you love, and you do it in your own way. None of us can be anybody else, and to want to live that way is to refuse the self. We all have important things that we need to tell the world - that's the reason why a lot of people want to be writers - and it's important to remember that if you go about it in your own way, you can help someone change.
I'm not going to immediately start writing the best content I've ever created; it's still too terrifying, and I don't have enough practice, and I don't trust myself. But the fear is what drives me, and slowly I find myself more and more willing to show Peter and ask for his advice, and when he shows me his work, I feel less bad about myself and more proud, proud to read it, proud to know it exists, and proud of him for writing it.
There are giants out there, and we all know them. But if we ever want to stand beside them, we have to realize that we, too, can be giants. It takes work and courage, and most of all, a willingness to be malleable and a willingness to trust ourselves. No one can write what's in your head, and that's why you have to write. It's not a matter of choice; you must. The world can be better because of it.