When I was 15 years old, my grandparents took me to see Eragon at the movie theater for my birthday. We were the only people in the theater, prompting my Papa to quip, “And I was afraid we wouldn’t find a seat!”
I was mesmerized by the film. And then I discovered it was based on a book. (I, like many, ended up hating the movie as an adaptation, but it still holds a bit of nostalgia for me.)
I borrowed the book from a friend’s mom and devoured it. Since she was the only person I knew who’d also read it, I gushed about how much I’d loved the story when I returned the book. She shared that the author had written it when he was 15 years old, he had been homeschooled, and he drew all of the maps for the fantasy world he’d created.
And y’all, I was 15, homeschooled, and couldn’t draw a stick figure but figured I could handle a map.
So I started writing. I built my world, created my creatures and characters, drew my maps. By the time I stopped writing, my story was over 30,000 words long. I finished it right around Father’s Day, so I dedicated it to my dad (sorry, mom), figured out double-sided pages, and printed the whole thing out to share.
I gave that thing to my family, friends, and even friends of my parents. It was honestly a mess of a story, but it was mine and something I’d actually finished.
But I haven’t written anything like it since.
As liberating as it was to prove that I was capable of writing something substantial, this experience also showed what I didn’t know. Unsurprisingly, since I was both a teenager and a human being, I focused solely on the shortcomings.
If I ever wanted to write a “real” story, I needed to learn how to create a detailed plot, work on fleshing out my characters, and just overall be better than I was.
I spent countless hours researching, outlining, and comparing. Every time I had a story idea, I would spend so much time trying to nurture it the “right way” that I would completely smother it. Eventually, I stopped trying to write my stories. Though I could once spin a story out of anything, spontaneous prompts are now few and far between.
Perfectionism and writing got so tangled that I paralyzed myself. Even though I could write easily for work, writing for fun became an exercise in torture. If every word wasn’t the right word, if the story wasn’t a good story (before it even had the chance to become a story at all), it wasn’t worth writing.
I got in my own way.
All of this made this week’s episode of the Hectic Podcast incredibly poignant. Michael Jung, a fellow writer and storyteller extraordinaire, first became interested in writing books in 7th grade, when he learned that his favorite author had written his first book while he was also in the 7th grade. Discovering this connection in our stories was exciting, but it was Michael’s similar experience with poisonous perfectionism that I found unexpectedly relieving.
It reminded me that I’m not the only one who has lost that unique spark that used to color the world in a way that only I could see. Others have struggled with the same problems and, more importantly, found ways to resolve them.
This episode also reminded me of something bigger: It’s not the end of the story.
Even if I never fully recapture the naive passion that fueled that first story, writing can be fun again. Using the technique Michael shared or some other solution, <tweet-link>I can train my brain to trust itself. These are my stories, after all, so why should I use someone else’s idea of perfection to determine their value?<tweet-link>
If you have a passion, I hope you can learn the same thing from this week’s episode. You don’t have to be the next J.K. Rowling, Ed Sheeran, or Mark Zuckerberg to make something worth sharing. Your creations have value because they exist. The more we can believe that, the easier it will be to give life to the stories we want to tell.
Get the full story here to learn why Michael identifies as a storyteller, how to get out of your own way, and the best ways to tell a great story.
You can connect with him on his website, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also find his published works on Amazon.