In Praise of Stupidity
I did what I thought I was supposed to.
When I got the idea to start a newsletter, I took a class. Got inspired. Raced to Substack and happily signed up for my new page. I added little ditties to my profile. Made a fun logo. Wrote my first post. Things were going swimmingly. I had oodles of ideas for what to write next. Birds were singing. The sun was glittering off a raging river of possibilities inside my head. All was right in the world.
And then I did what I thought I was supposed to do next: I educated myself even more. (Cue scary music here.)
I subscribed to a bunch of writers and read post after post. Perused articles on increasing your followers and analyzing your dashboard data. Dove into the Notes section (think Twitter but nicer) and lurked around admiring the witty banter back and forth.
Because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you start something new, right? You’re supposed to learn as much as you can about the discipline you want to master. Verse yourself in all the ins and outs. The dos and don’ts. The shoulds and shouldn’ts. After all, the more you know, the better. Knowledge is power, right?
I’m starting to wonder if maybe that’s not entirely true.
Because with each clever turn of phrase I read, each time I stumbled on an article written on a topic I wanted to write about (but done better of course), each time I saw people reposting each other’s newsletters and chatting back and forth on Notes while I sat on the sideline feeling like the awkward nerd who just walked into an already raging party wearing the wrong outfit, the more my enthusiasm waned.
It had happened again. The demon of comparison had crept and stolen all the joy out of what had previously felt like such a fun adventure to me.
Suddenly, all my ideas seemed stupid and pointless. What did I have to offer? Weren’t other, much more qualified people, already saying exactly what I wanted to say? Surely if I put myself out there I’d only embarrass myself, expose myself as an imposter who doesn’t know her ass from her elbow, or worse yet, bore people with my meager point of view?
Have you ever felt this way when starting something new?
Yes, knowledge is power. But only if you don’t use that power as a way to fuel your fears.
Luckily I know my trickster thoughts well enough that I no longer run screaming when they leap out from behind my walls of doubt and try to scare the shit out of me. Instead, I now try to simply stare them down.
Contemplating what had caused my sudden drain of vim and vigor, I wrote in my notebook:
I wonder if, when I’m starting something new, I should be careful about how much information take in? I wonder if I shouldn’t overload myself with others’ work or learn too many details until I get my sea legs, so to speak. Maybe I should just concentrate on what I want to say first and focus on output only. Write a piece…send it out into the Universe, then write another and send it off. Over and over again, without too much scrutiny, until I get my momentum flowing like water over the spillway of a pond. That’s it. I’ll get my creative stream flowing strong first, flush out the mud of doubt so it doesn’t seep in and clog up all my excitement before I ever get started.
There’s a reason they call it beginner’s luck. Because when you’re a beginner you’re too dumb to even know all the things you’re supposed to be afraid of. Which means you’re naïve and innocent to what could go wrong and therefore not fraught with all kinds of resistance. I’d say that’s a blissful kind of ignorance we all should embrace.
I’ve experienced the joy of being an oblivious novice when I wrote my first books. Yes, I took basic writing classes on plot structure and pacing and the dreaded “show, don’t tell.” But when I saturated myself beyond a certain point of education, I could feel myself sinking into a frantic seeking of how to do it “right.” That’s when my intuitive voice would become muffled. My own voice drown out by all the garbled mixed signals I’d unwittingly invited into my head.
So I wrote for pleasure, not publication. I stopped taking craft classes. I kept my work to myself until I felt sturdy about what I wanted to say. I focused on output only while keeping the input of others at bay. I wrote a scene the best I could, then moved on to the next. Wrote, then moved on. And in doing so, I was able to get my energy moving in one direction in what I call the water wheel effect:
Get curious, create, release. Get curious, create, release. Over and over again.
Output, output, output. Energy flowing in only one direction.
This process can work in all kinds of creative endeavors. Why? Because keeping your eyes on your own paper, so to speak, cuts down on comparison. Keeps your confidence up. Doesn’t cloud your own unique perspective by worrying about how to follow some rigid set of rules or trying to replicate other people’s formulas.
Of course, you can eventually allow in more data from the outside world if you want. But only after the momentum has built enough that you have the strength to handle the criticism and self-doubt that will inevitably trickle in. Because we all want connection, that delicious co-creative back and forth with other like-minded souls. But I’d rather have a back and forth where I felt like a sturdy tree getting my roots tickled in the stream, not like a fragile leaf being buffeted by a raging storm.
I hope this helps when you find yourself timidly dipping your toe into some new creative body of water for the first time. Be aware that with creativity, education is good, but only in moderation. It’s okay to keep yourself insular, innocent, oblivious to what dangers might be (but probably aren’t) lurking in the waters up ahead.
Who knows, you might find that staying stupid is the smartest choice you’ve ever made.