I remember the first time I was asked to speak at a conference. My immediate thought was, “But I’m a writer, not a speaker! Who will want to listen to me? I’ve got nothing worthwhile to say. . .”
Far too many of us fall into this trap of “I’m not good enough” when we consider what we’ll write, too. The problem is, we’re comparing ourselves to the A-listers out there, the famous writers–and we see ourselves falling short.
For instance, I thought about all the great TEDx talks I’d watched on YouTube and how wonderful those speakers were. Or the keynote speakers I’d observed online, where I listened to big names like Tony Robbins, Brene Brown or Simon Sinek.
Well, compare yourself to those guys, and no wonder it’s hard to measure up.
But here’s a different perspective. I learned this from my mentor in university, and have found it really useful over the years.
When I started sending out academic articles for publication as a Masters student, I couldn’t help but note my lack of experience and expertise, especially compared to my professors, who were my role models.
I assumed that no one would want to read my amateur essay about Blake’s poetry. I mean, I was just a student, right?
Here’s what my mentor told me:
“Ricki, there’s a difference between art and craft. Yes, to create art, one requires exceptional talent. But craft can be learned by anyone, and you are excellent at your craft.”
In other words, art comes from inborn talent. When that talent is nurtured, the result is the kind of genius that makes us gasp with appreciation; we can admire it from afar, and it tends to endure through generations.
Think Picasso, William Faulkner, Meryl Streep, Einstein.
But only a very small percentage of us can reach this pinnacle of achievement. Only a small percentage of us are born with this kind of talent.
However, there is still immense value in well-executed craft. In fact, those of us who hone our craft and put our work into the world have something equally (or even more) important to contribute!
Why? Because craft applies to everyone, and it is useful. Yes, we admire great talent, but it doesn’t improve our lives minute to minute.
Here’s an example: Think of the difference between Frank Lloyd Wright’s historic building, Fallingwater, versus the house you imagine your great-great grandparents might have lived in.
Chances are, your ancestors’ house was built by hand, was built to last, and housed many generations. People made use of that “regular” house. They had family dinners there, they raised babies in it, they came together there to celebrate holidays and mourn the loss of loved ones.
That simple, “basic” house had a direct impact on people’s lives.
There’s a short story by Alice Walker that I love, called “Everyday Use.” I think it illustrates the same principle really well.
In it, a young woman named Dee visits her mother and sister in the house where they grew up. Dee becomes annoyed when her mother won’t hand over the “heirloom” family quilts so that she can hang them as historic, cultural objects in her house. Instead, her mother promises them to Dee’s younger sister, Maggie, so Maggie can have them for “everyday use.”
The story suggests that the quilts are more valuable when they are actually being put to use, offering warmth and comfort to those who own them. Yes, they are beautiful and they could be appreciated as art, but their true value comes from what they can do in a practical way for people.
It’s the same principle with well-crafted books of nonfiction.
Maybe your work will allow someone to start a podcast and triple the size of their email list. Maybe your book allows new moms to avoid burnout. Maybe your cookbook helps people on gluten-free diets enjoy food again for the first time in years. Or maybe your writing inspires others to start a book club and meet with other like-minded readers.
All of these contributions literally change people’s lives for the better. They offer practical, day-to-day actions that can make the difference for someone’s work, someone’s life, someone’s relationships or someone’s health.
And what could be more important than that?
So next time you worry that your work isn’t “exceptional” or “expert” enough, remember that you can hone your craft. And your craft makes a real difference to regular, everyday people, who are just like you.
Ready to get started? Let’s chat and see how I can help.