I have been listening to renowned photographer Gregory Heisler give a talk to a room full of professional and hobbyist photographers at the Chase Jarvis LIVE Show. While I am not an aspiring photographer, I get a lot out of listening to the inspirational speakers that Chase frequently hosts. Heisler speaks about finding your style, or rather how your style finds you. He says you can’t choose a style like you choose a medium. You have to work for a while and then look back; your style will emerge from your work.
This resonated with me because I have been floundering as a writer, dabbling in formats and approaches, and mostly not writing because I worry that I don’t know enough yet to do it properly. I write for school, but often stifle my extracurricular writing activities. This is pretty silly of me, since I regularly complain that I am not challenged by the work in graduate school and am disillusioned by the realization that many of my classmates do not possess writing and analytical skills on par with mine. I know, I know…it’s pretty judgey of me to think that stuff, let alone declare it to the world here. But the struggle is real. After listening to Heisler, I think I know what I need to do. I need to write.
Yes, there’s all that obsession with why I feel that this school is such an awkward fit for me that often comes out as harsh judgments of others. That’s an important thing to explore and perhaps a transfer to another school will be in order. It’s a lot of money to spend to be miserable with the educational process and to feel like an outsider, and no credential is worth all that. I realize that there isn’t anything wrong with my fellow students or with me. This may simply be the wrong school for me. But what all of this complaining does is it feeds the procrastinator in me. It helps to keep me from writing.
For instance, this has been a rather light six-week class session. It has been the perfect time to work on my own projects, do some research into topics of interest, or just journal like I am right now. Writing is writing; it is all useful. If you want to be a writer, you must write. I’ve let my concerns over my own inadequacies keep me from writing, even as I realize that I am a better writer than many folks. And I’ve let the noise in my own head over all of this get really loud, which has effectively paralyzed me on the writing front. I am a self-defeater from way back and apparently old habits die hard, despite therapy.
As I continued to listen to Heisler, this idea of doing the work to find the answers about the work expanded. What is unique about us is already in us, says Heisler. We don’t need to find our niche; our niche will find us. Intentionally searching for it will limit the possibilities. Heisler implores those of us just starting out to let it unfold, say yes to everything. He recounted advice he got from another legendary photographer when he was just starting out. He asked this mentor what type of work he should do, what subjects he should shoot. The advice he got was not the hoped-for which famous photographer to be like, but “shoot what you can’t help but shoot.” Just do what you are drawn to, what comes naturally to you, and continue to refine it. “You cannot think your way into a career, you can only shoot your way into it,” says Heisler. Others will be drawn to it because it is authentic work, uniquely yours. Your style will develop and your niche will find you.
I have been trying to fit myself into existing molds with my writing instead of letting my unique approach lead me to the work that only I can do. This has resulted in a sort of paralysis in which I haven’t written at all. Complaining about school is just another reason not to write. I’m over that. Whining has kept me from the work. So, I am adopting a new mantra that will hopefully remind me to just write, no matter what:
Life happens. I write about it.
Isn’t it great that we have a chance to start over every day?
P.S. It occurs to me that there are some very good reasons why my skills are advanced compared to some of my fellow students, such as my 30 years of experience over two previous careers. Duh. I guess the kid in me who didn’t attend college in her youth is finally growing up and sometimes she doesn’t realize how old she is, or how fortunate!