Insufficient Reach

To write as well as we can possibly write, every writer must find his or her confidence. As with all things humans find within themselves, confidence is not some plot of land we acquire and dwell comfortably upon for the rest of our lives. Rather it is our balance across the beam of our lives. We say we have found it when we experience a step of perfect balance. This, we understand, is what confidence feels like. But then we must find it again with our next step, and then our next step, and then our next step. The opposite of confidence, which is a kind of internal security, is insecurity. When I have felt insecure in my life I have seen myself as lacking, as insufficient. I feel as if life is asking me to play hockey before I have learned how to skate. What a wobbly, unbalanced place to be. In such moments, the balance beam of my life has narrowed to a wire, and all I can seem to do is fall.

I used to try to bolster my confidence by reminding myself what a capable guy I was. I would remember all the things I had done well in the past, all the skills I had acquired, the compliments I had received. Somehow this only left me wobblier. I still felt insufficient. Maybe I simply was insufficient. Maybe I was only meant to travel so far across the wire.

Writing eventually taught me that all insecurity was a trick of perception, not ability. The beam hadn’t narrowed; I had simply taken my eye off of it. I had come to believe I must know something I couldn’t know. If you believe, for instance, that you must know whether a story is “any good” before you write it, then you will always feel insufficient, for you will never know this. In such moments I am reaching out into the darkness, and I blame my empty hand for having failed to grab what never existed.

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