Random Notes

The public notebook of writer and essayist Scott Nesbitt

Not everything you do or create has to be awesome or brilliant or killer. Don't fall into the trap of believing that.

Believing that makes you afraid to fail. It makes you hesitant to publish or ship. It makes you agonize endlessly, over every little detail. Sometimes, that thinking blocks you from starting something. Anything.

Most of the time, creating something that's just good is more than enough.

Far too often (and once is too often), I hear of writers who, when looking back at their early work, express shock and horror at how cringeworthy that work is.

It's a silly reaction, and I think they're being far too dramatic.

They seem to forget that they're not that writer any more. The writer they are now isn't the same writer they were when they penned that early work.

That goes for you, too.

If you've been doing everything you should have — studying your craft, writing with intent, clicking the Publish button, getting feedback, and repeating the process — you should have grown as a writer. You'll have improved, honed your craft, and expanded your skills.

Instead of cringing or expressing horror at your older work, you should look at it. You should take in how far you've come.

You'll see glimpses of the writer you are now in those early pieces. Sure, that work will lack polish and sometimes seem laboured, but the core of you as a writer is in there. A few years ago, for example, I resurrected an unpublished science essay that I wrote in the early 1990s. That essay needed to be updated, rewritten a bit, and pared down. That essay couldn't compare to my later work.

I view that essay, and the writing I did in that period, as being part of the foundation of the career I have. Yes, I would write all of those articles and essays differently if I was tackling them now. That's not the point. Writing all those words, including (I'd argue especially) the unpublished words, were what made me the writer I am today.

So, if you feel the urge to look back at what you wrote early in your journey as a writer then remember to view that work as the first steps you took. The first steps that led you where you are now.

Talking about using (or not) your time during the coronavirus lockdown:

If you have a personal goal and a thing that you're trying to do in life and you decided this is when you're going to write the book, or put up the shelves or learn to speak a foreign language or whatever and you look around and you go a month went by, and all I managed to do was prepare food three times a day and shower. Great, well done.

This is a strange, stressful time you do not have to come out of it speaking Swahili. You do not have to come out of it having written the great New Zealand novel. You do not have to come out of it having solved some abstruse mathematical equations that you've been planning to do all of your life. Mostly your job is to come out of it.

It comes in waves, especially on days like today. At one moment, the blue of the sky is flecked with white and gray clouds. It gives you the confidence that you can go out for a walk or on a supermarket run and be back before the water starts to fall.

Then, just as you step outside, the hard rain comes down. Or, you get bouts of fine mist between clear moments. That continues all day or across several days.

That, folks, is the cadence of the weather in Auckland during spring and autumn. Even though I've been living in this city for almost eight years, I still find the weather here to be fascinating and, at times, frustrating.

I think I'm going to miss the rain in Auckland when I eventually leave the city. But I also wonder what weather, what patterns and cadence of rain, I'll find in my next home in New Zealand.

A pause in the Auckland rain

Aside from a short period at the start of 2017, it's been years, a lot of years, since I've worked from home. At the current Day JobTM, I'm the only member of my team who never worked from home.

That all changed at the end of March when my employer told everyone to work from home. Then, a couple of days later, New Zealand went into a four-week lockdown.

While I have what I need to work from home, I recently realized how important my commute home each day was. That 20-odd minutes from door to door was my buffer. It was time that allowed me to shift modes. It allowed me to forget about the travails of the day and ease back into my personal life.

Now, with home and office being one in the same, making that shift isn't easy. When I call it quits each afternoon, I put my work laptop and charger in my knapsack. Out of sight, out of mind and all that.

Without the buffer of the daily commute, it's harder to make that shift. In the evenings, I've been finding it hard to read and to write. My progress in those areas has dropped. Noticeably. It's causing me no small amount of stress.

Lately, though, my wife has been kicking me out of the apartment after I put away the work tools. To go out for a walk, to read in a nearby park, to create that missing buffer. That's slowly working, but I also wonder how messed up I'll be when things go back to a semblance of normal and the old daily routine starts again.

Every writer eventually winds up with that piece of writing. You finish or come close to finishing something, but it's not quite right. It didn't turn out the way you expected it to. The piece doesn't sing. It doesn't soar. The core, the heart, of that piece of writing is there but the rest of it doesn't really work.

When that happens, you have a difficult choice to make: do you salvage that piece of writing or do you abandon it? Here's some advice that can help you make the decision.


Some interesting posts I've discovered in these parts over the last while:

Confession time: in the recent past, there was a period of about two years during which I lost a lot of confidence in my writing and my ability as a writer.

I won't bore you with the details, but during that 24 month period I wasn't happy with a lot of my work. That, in turn, put a huge dent in my productivity and in my plans.

While I've regained a lot of my my confidence, there are still a few steps I need to take. I'd like to share with you what I did, and what I'm still doing, to get that confidence back. It might help you if you're in a situation like this.


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