The Benefits of Being A Beginner

amberI am not, and have never been, an artist. I was still in braces when I took my last art class, and I’m pretty sure my mother quietly tossed the results as soon as I moved out of the house. Still, I had a big, empty wall in my house that needed something. Some art. And I decided I would make that art.

When it comes to writing, I do not consider myself a beginner. But as I started to make my art, I could still remember beginning to write.

There’s an arrogance that’s necessary to being a beginner. After all, it’s not as if there wasn’t other art already out there, some of it by people who’d devoted years of their lives to developing and refining their techniques. Who was I to think I could be making art? A perfectly legitimate question. Yet somehow, as I made my first few brushstrokes, that thought didn’t occur to me. I just started.

As I worked, I worried. I worried that if anyone who actually knew anything about art ever saw it, they would immediately see how amateur it was. How stupid. How deeply unoriginal. “Well,” I said to myself. “It’s a good thing no one called the Art Police. Because they would be PISSED!” I kept going.

After a while I stopped working on it, but rather than put it up, I let it age for a couple months in my basement. I thought maybe it was done, but I couldn’t be sure. There were parts I didn’t like. Colors that didn’t look right. Maybe there was more to do. Or maybe not. Then I remembered that perfection is not only impossible but really freaking boring. I declared it finished, and hung it on my wall.

Most of the readers of this blog are not beginning writers. Many are in the big middle of their efforts, past the exuberance of the beginning, not yet to the satisfaction of a fully realized vision. But there are important things to remember about being a beginner. The arrogance it takes to write that first line, even though millions of first lines have come before it. The willingness to push past doubts and insecurities (because, fortunately, no one is calling the Writing Police on our early drafts). And finally, the ability to declare a scene, a chapter, and ultimately a novel done. And once it’s done, to let it out into the world, imperfections and all.

Everyone who ever accomplished anything was once a beginner. And that combination of arrogance and desire to create is powerful fuel that propels us through uncertainty to a finished work. It was good to remember that feeling. And the good news is that with every new work, we get to be beginners all over again.

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