Just Because It Sounds Good Doesn’t Mean It’s True

Rodney Ewing, Patriot (Assata Shakur), silkscreen and dry pigment on paper, 2016

“You just need to tune everyone else out and focus on what you know to be right,” my husband recently told me as I complained, again, about some writing that had been keeping me up at night.

That sounded like sage advice; after all, how many times do we hear variations on this like “Follow your heart,” “Find your truth,” “You know yourself best,” etc?

So off I went, tapping away at my keyboard, watching the sentences turn into paragraphs and then into pages, all in service of… “writing my truth” undistracted by the supposed interference of others. A few days later, I had… a whole lot of words, but no big revelation and no brilliant argument, just what felt like the mush in my head in black and white before me.

The value of a “shitty first draft,” as writer Ann Lamott calls it, is of course not to be undervalued, but the issue was that it felt like if I continued to labor alone, my last draft was bound to be just as shitty as the first! And that’s when I decided that if “my truth” was actually lurking inside me, accessing it was going to have to be a joint effort.

I called a friend who I trust, shared the piece, and after a long conversation, realized “NOW THAT’S WHAT I AM TRYING TO SAY!” I sat down to revise, and not just words, but the right words, began to flow.

I am taking a break from working on that to write this post before the month is over, because I realize that this is not the kind of story we usually tell about inspiration, especially in a solitary realm like writing (I bet this applies to lots of other pursuits too).

So often, we convince ourselves that only WE know what we want to say, that anyone else’s input is distraction, and thus that if the final product is published, or even better, READ, that success is ours alone. And that if we don’t live up to this myth of the creative hero, that we have somehow failed. This all leads us to hesitate to ask for help in the first place (another variation of this dynamic is convincing ourselves we don’t deserve others’ help), and then to erase the help we get from the stories we tell about “how we got here.” Not productive!

What would happen if we openly sought inspiration from those around us? If we were more willing to ask for help? More willing to offer to help to others? If we acknowledged such support, informally in how we talk about our work and more formally in shout-outs even where citations aren’t in order? (I love this approach from my friend and colleague Ansley Erickson).

Anyway, that’s MY goal this month – I would love to hear yours!

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