Why you should retry the things you’re bad at

How creative writing made me realize I labeled myself too easily


Josie Sydnor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

Many kids carry around a stuffed animal or security blanket for comfort, but I was known for always carrying a book with me wherever I went.  My favorites genres were fantasy, science fiction and fairy tales, and I reread my favorite novels until I could recall the characters’ memories as well as my own.  

I read on the bus to school, underneath the covers when I was supposed to be asleep and even while running errands with my mom — I kept one hand on the shopping cart so I didn’t accidentally wander away. I idolized the way my favorite authors could create entire worlds from scratch, and I wondered if I had the ability to do the same. 

My first opportunity arose during a middle school English class, where we were instructed to create a story surrounding a character we had drawn.  We were free to guide the story in any direction we wanted, and I was thrilled to try to emulate my favorite writers.

I wrote page after page — more than I had ever written before — and I was overflowing with ideas that I desperately tried to squeeze into the plot. It was packed with intricate details and plot twists, and my ideas far exceeded my writing skills. I was unaware of this, and I turned in my work with great pride.

You can imagine my disappointment when my teacher returned my story with a subpar grade — my narration was murky and turned in too many directions, and the conclusion was confusing and unsatisfying.  

Of course this was just constructive criticism, but like most 12-year-olds, I took the critiques personally. Although I still enjoyed academic writing, I decided that I had no future in fiction, regardless of how much I loved the time I spent writing that story.

After that experience, I avoided any kind of creative writing for many years, believing that I was simply bad at it. I was forced to retry fantasy writing during a course this semester, and I wrote a story based on a prompt about unearthing a family secret.

After a nervous recitation of my story in class, I expected the same confusion and questions that I received many years ago. To my surprise, the professor and other group members liked the story — I wasn’t bad at fiction writing. I just needed more experience.

Writing that story caused me to wonder how many things I’ve labeled myself as “bad” at based on one negative experience. If I had gained confidence in my creative writing skills, it likely would have become one of my hobbies. How many of my characteristics and activities have come from one-off experiences from years ago?  

I realized that loving a hobby is more important than worrying about whether or not I’m good at it. Even if I received negative feedback on my recent story, I enjoyed creating it so much that I’d keep writing anyway.  

We tend to place more value in our natural talents because we dislike failing, but it’s rare to succeed when trying something new for the first time. I wasn’t immediately skilled at creative writing, but I gained the ability with practice.  

I’m still an inexperienced fiction writer, but more importantly, I love it and I don’t mind that I have lots of room to improve. I’ve lost my original story on a computer that’s long gone, but maybe I’ll rewrite it soon and do it justice.

Josie Sydnor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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