I’ve been thinking lately about creativity. About the complicated relationship between humility, confidence, and arrogance. About the precarious balance between the conviction that we might actually know what we’re doing and the gnawing fear that we don’t – a balance which is required to produce anything worthwhile. Or at least that’s how it seems to me.
I’ve been thinking about imposter syndrome.
And I’ve been ironing. Usually a school uniform, in the morning, at the last possible moment.
I hate ironing. Epitome of pointless pursuits. Can’t we simply agree that the natural state of some fabrics is wrinkled and leave it at that? Sadly, my daughter’s school handbook stipulates that uniforms should be ironed and as much as I’d like to storm the barricades of convention, it seems unfair to impale her on my ideological pitchfork.
So I iron. And I was thinking the other morning, as I did this, about how I really have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t know how to iron. There was no passing down of ironing lore from my mother to me. I have no clue. All I’m doing is dabbing hopefully here and there, trying to get out enough wrinkles, to smooth things over sufficiently that no one will notice.
And this, I thought, is also like writing, at least for we imposters. The work is always falling apart. I have no idea how to plot. My characters aren’t real, their dialogue not true. I don’t know how to do this thing called writing, can’t possibly put together a whole book, not a real one. All I’m doing is trying to string together enough acceptable sentences, enough lines that seem on the surface to be something like writing, that it will form a shiny enough patina to bamboozle the unsuspecting reader.
Ironing. Writing. I like these little ideas, these connections. And if I can’t not be ironing, I at least like thinking about writing while I’m doing it.
But as I smoothed out another wrinkle, turning the dress this way and that, wondering if I’d done enough yet to keep the gatekeepers happy, something occurred to me that I liked even more. And it was this: that if you smooth out enough wrinkles, in the end that’s what ironing is. It’s not that no one will notice you haven’t really ironed. It’s that in the process of what you tell yourself is a desperate subterfuge you will actually have succeeded in doing the thing itself.
Maybe the problem is not that you lack skill, but that you don’t recognise that skill for what it is. Maybe it doesn’t matter how you feel in the doing of it; maybe all that matters is the thing you hold up to the light at the end of it all.
And maybe it’s the same with writing. If, in the end, I string together enough sentences, enough paragraphs, enough pages. If, in the end, I put together a whole book that satisfies the reader, that’s not bamboozling, is it? That’s not a trick.