Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Finding inspiration in doing

One step at a time. Photo courtesy of NST Image Bank.

For years Ana was haunted by fear and self-doubt. "I am a mediocre writer," was a familiar refrain.

She was also constantly afraid: of the dark, offending people and making mistakes.

Ana and I were colleagues and we often shared our anxieties.

At the end of each session we would feel better about ourselves until the next round of attack. The bonding meetings stopped when Ana left Malaysia for Canada where she found her niche in publishing. Actually, Ana is the complete opposite of the negative profile described above. She is a talented writer and is continually exploring opportunities to improve herself.

Sometimes I wonder if her self-deprecating demeanour is a mask she puts on to avoid appearing too confident. Maybe it is her attempt at humility. We never got to discussing that aspect of her character.

My thoughts turn to Ana whenever self-doubt creeps up on me and the words of encouragement we say to each other. She has a mentor whom she often consults whenever she feels this way.

He tells her to "just do it" when she finds an assignment too challenging. Do not worry about the outcome, he counsels. One step at a time. And this method has allowed the award-winning journalist to complete all her projects successfully.

What I like about the "just do it" rule is that it does not allow me to dwell on results. The job becomes possible when it is broken into manageable components.

For a journalist or writer "just do it" means putting pen to paper no matter how lame the ideas may seem. Keep at it and the thoughts will soon flow. Will your piece of writing make people sit up and change their lives?

Maybe it will, maybe it will not. But that is not the point and it should not be your goal, says Ana's mentor. "Just do it" is also a way around the issue of looking for inspiration, a point many competent writers understand.

"Achieving inspiration means forgetting about it completely," writes James Chartrand. "Instead of seeking it out, we need to disconnect from the quest and sever our continual self-hounding to find the right answer, the ultimate story and the perfect angle."

He suggests allowing inspiration to "sneak up on its own until it leaps out in a sudden burst of idea". That sounds pretty much like the advice offered by Ana's mentor.

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