I had a moment during the triathlon I was taking part in this weekend when I thought I couldn’t go on. The wind had whipped up waves in the lake as I was swimming. Instead of a lungful of air when I turned my head to breathe, I got a face full of water. For a few seconds I thought, “I can’t do this.”
After a pause, treading water and giving myself a bit of a talking to, I managed to overcome my flight response, drew on my training and race experience and continued to swim, cycle and run my way to the end of the course.
It’s a feeling I’ve had as a writer too. That I can’t do this. That somehow, I’m just pretending, and one day someone will challenge me on it.
From what other writers have confided, I’m not alone in this. We all have our moments of doubt. As professionals, we question our worth.
Just as in my athletic pursuits, it’s not just training and experience that makes me a writer. There’s also a strong element of self belief too. Of believing I can do this. I have the skills, the knowledge and talent.
I finally started to really believe in myself as a writer after spending some time with John Simmons.
John was director of verbal identity at Interbrand; has written for companies big and small and is a founder of 26. His books include, We, Me, Them & It, Dark Angels, The Invisible Grail and 26 Ways of Looking at a Blackberry, as well as Room121: a masterclass in writing and communication in business co-written with Jamie Jauncey. When it comes to copywriting – he literally wrote the books.
So when John Simmons tells you, you are a writer, it’s good sense to believe him. I can think of no greater compliment, or anything else I’ve been prouder to hear. In triathlon terms it’s like finishing first in the World Championships, winning gold at the Olympics and qualifying for Kona all rolled into one.
Through John, I’ve developed confidence in my skills and voice as a writer. Felt more assured about asserting the creativity that feeds into the commercial work of a copywriter and opened up opportunities that allow me to explore that creativity beyond the office walls.
It’s a special day for John today, as he launches his first novel, Leaves. A story he began 45 years ago, now published by Urbane. It’s sad, elegiac and so beautifully written, there are sentences in it that I will read again and again.
I heartily wish I was in London tonight to celebrate with him, but distance and demands of my working life mean I can only be there in spirit.
Through spending time with John, discussing writing, meeting fellow writers on Dark Angels writing courses and reading his regular, always thought-provoking blog posts, I feel privileged to call him a friend as well as a mentor.
On today’s blog he offers three pieces of advice, which all strike me as absolutely true. But the one that really resonated was this:
Writers need people to show faith in them, to express confidence in their writing
A shout from a supporter, or a spectator in a race can make me smile, encourage me to keep going, or stop me from giving in.
It’s the same with writing, although generally a little quieter in tone. A simple thank you, ‘nice work’ or even better, a ‘wow’, can really lift my spirits, and encourage me to give my best every time I put pen to paper.
I’m very grateful to John, for showing faith in me, and for introducing me to a wider network of wonderful writers. I raise a virtual toast to us all. May you look each person in the eye and say with confidence “I am a writer. I write.”