December 22

Who taught you what counts as good writing, anyway?

You’ve been shaped to think who is capable of “good writing” without even realizing it. You’ve very likely been conditioned to associate good writing with people who spend hours in isolation, people who are quiet and nerdy, people who use flowery words or words that normal people would have to look up in the dictionary, and people who will probably not make very much money. And your assumptions about where good writing comes from are blocking your own ability to commit to writing your book.

How your hometown influenced what you believe.

It’s nearing the end of the year, which means many of us will be spending more time than normal with family and friends, who we may only see occasionally, but these people may be more influential in our lives than we realize. When you travel back to a place you once called “home,” see the same restaurants or neighborhoods you knew as a child, and talk to people who remember when you were young, you can almost feel yourself going back to the internal place of growing up. It’s the strange pull of nostalgia. It feels strangely comfortable, yet you can’t help but think how far you’ve come.

What you may not realize is that you’re not just traveling back to familiar places and people, you’re traveling back to a group of beliefs that shaped you from an early age. You’re traveling back to parents who taught you what was good. You’re traveling back to friends who taught you what was cool. You’re traveling back to teachers who taught you what was worthy. You’re traveling back to neighbors and pastors and local business owners who taught you what was acceptable. Whether or not you actually talk to these people, your mind still remembers conversations and cues that were extremely formative to your younger self.

Think about some of the messages you may have received as a young person and many of them may have been very well-intentioned, such as:

  • Kind children don’t talk back to parents or have conflicts with other children.
  • Good students study hard and check off all the boxes on the teacher’s syllabus.
  • Successful people work hard, get a quality education, and pursue a prestigious job.
  • Happy people get married and have children.
  • Stable parents pick a good school district, buy a house, and live there for decades.
  • Worthy husbands have jobs that pay the bills.
  • Caring mothers are available for children’s needs at all times of the day.

The messages we receive as young people number in the thousands and each of us will have received different types of messages, depending on where we grew up and who was influential in our lives.

How your hometown shapes what you think of as good writing.

While the sociologist in me could spend hours talking about the socialization of young children (and some poor college students once, literally, had to listen to me talk for hours about it!), I want to talk briefly about how you’ve been subtly and unintentionally steered away from writing.

I want you to notice something when you go home for the holidays (or meet people from your childhood, even if it’s not actually your hometown). If you’re trying to do anything new, different, or a little unconventional—like lose weight, travel, start a business, write a book—you will likely feel like that idea is highly improbable. If you voice your big, bold goal for next year, you will likely get a bit of push-back. The person you’re talking to might say, “Oh, that sounds great, but…” and insert whatever worry/concern/reason why that goal isn’t going to pan out.

I’ve seen this happen to people who want to write a book. You might bravely say, “I’m going to write a book next year,” and the other person says, “That would be fantastic! But isn’t it hard to get published? But did you struggle with English essays in high school? But didn’t you spend more time playing sports and chasing girls than going to class? But have you ever tried to write a book before? But aren’t you a little young? But aren’t you a little old?”

The seemingly well-meaning comments pull you right back to that young child you once were, and you start to doubt whether this big goal of writing is even possible for you. The limitations feel more real and suffocating than ever before.

These are limiting beliefs.

Limiting beliefs are the doubtful questions that insinuate that success is highly improbable or impossible. If you want to write a book, some limiting beliefs might look like this:

  • Good writers got good grades in school.
  • Good writing uses flowery language and long words.
  • Good writers get a contract with a traditional publisher before writing a book.
  • Good writing should be grammatically correct, even from the first draft.
  • Good writers are usually poor, probably for their whole lives.
  • Good writing is a long, painful struggle with little reward.

Do any of those sound familiar?

And limiting beliefs aren’t necessarily ever voiced by anyone. Maybe you grew up with supportive parents and encouraging teachers. But messages like this float around, hard to grasp, but as real as the air we breathe.

How can we act, despite limiting beliefs?

The courage to act, in the face of a limiting belief, starts with simply acknowledging the limiting belief.

In fact, going home for the holidays is a great way to acknowledge a limiting belief.

Start a conversation with a straightforward statement, “I’m actually writing a book and planning to publish next year.”

Take note of what the other person says. It might be encouraging, at first, but they’ll likely follow up with something that’s questioning or doubtful. Literally, write down what worry or concern they voice.

THAT limiting belief is in your mind, already. THAT limiting belief is taking away your courage to act, even now. THAT limiting belief is something that some part of you believes, too, even without you realizing it.

But now you have a name for it. You can put words to the limiting belief. And that’s the first step in being able to pursue your big, bold, audacious goal, in spite of that very limiting belief.

So, go ahead. Start a holiday conversation with your big goal, and take note (literally, in a notebook) of what worries/concerns/doubts people voice back to you. And let me know what limiting beliefs you already know you’re up against. Maybe it’ll help someone else identify their limiting belief!


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