A couple of weeks ago, I had something of a writer’s breakdown.
I’d been trying to put a first draft together (oh, the dreaded first draft), and I was frustrated. What if the writing doesn’t turn out well? What if I don’t have all the information I need? What if it’s not as good as I want it to be?
In the midst of my journalistic angst, I chatted with a friend and complained about how I was afraid my draft would be bad, that I hadn’t done enough, that I’d mess something up.
She looked over and said something that stuck with me (paraphrased to get at the nuance of the comment):
“Allie, it’s going to be OK. You don’t have to write ‘AIDS in the Heartland.'”
A bit of context for you: One of the professors at the j-school won a Pulitzer for writing this gut-wrenching, beautiful piece of journalistic perfection. When I was a freshman, she came to one of my journalism classes and gave a lecture, and I left in a euphoric flurry of “I’m going to be a reporter and change the world and life can be so beautiful and JOURNALISM FOREVER.” I’m pretty sure everyone does this.
Now, it’s not that I think I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread and that I’m about to produce the next great work of journalism before I graduate from college. And I’m not saying I suck, either. For a 22-year-old in journalism school with only so much newsroom experience, I’d say I’m doing all right.
But still, whenever I sit down to write, I feel a certain affliction I think a lot writers feel: I’m afraid it won’t be good enough.
Now I’m not putting myself down. Really. I believe I’m capable of doing my job and doing it well. But I think I’m not alone in saying that sometimes I just stare at the blank computer screen and think of all the things I want to say and become terrified I won’t be able to say them. I have this deep desire to just write beautiful stories and make people feel things and do things and see things a different way. I have a borderline musical montage running through my head, during which which I sit down at my computer and type up compelling journalistic prose and everyone just thinks it’s the best thing ever.
And then I pull out of the montage , and the computer screen is still blank.
I think a level of dissatisfaction can be a positive thing. It pushes me to always always always be better, to improve, to take my reporting and writing up a notch. It makes me think of what could be and to always strive for that.
But sometimes, I get so caught up in the wanting to be better that I forget what I’m already capable of doing. I forget that I’ve got plenty of talents and strengths but that I’m young, and I still have a lot of living and writing to do before I can really master my craft.
And that’s OK.
Once I realized that, I sat down and finished my draft. It turned out just fine, like it always does. There was room for improvement, like there always is. I’ve got my work cut out for me, like I always do. And when the piece is finished, I’m going to be proud of it, like I always am.
It’s just a matter of learning to have the open-mindedness to learn and grow, to recognize that it’s OK to not be perfect every time (that’s what second drafts are for), to recognize that I have a long career ahead of improving and honing my craft, to acknowledge that the reason I’m in school is because I’m still learning how to do that.
So maybe beautiful prose doesn’t flow from my fingertips. Maybe I’m not the next great American writer (yet). Maybe I’m not a seasoned reporter who knows what to do all the time (yet). Maybe I’m not a prize-winning journalist (yet).
But I am a pretty darn good Allie Hinga, and even though I’ve still got some growing to do, I’m OK with that.