I strive to write the best books and essays possible. I hope my words matter, entertain, make people think, encourage and motivate. I write a weekly blog post to hone my skills and to share my thoughts on topics that intrigue me, concern me, anger me, or make me smile. I write novels to share stories that my brain can no longer corral, and to have an excuse to research topics that interest me and, hopefully, that interest my readers. I attend an MFA program in creative writing to be the best writer I can be. I counsel other writers, and teach writing seminars. I have sold over thirty thousands books.
Yet I am not good enough.
There is a song in the Broadway musical “Hamilton” that refers to Alexander Hamilton and asks, “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” Hamilton, who created America’s financial system and had George Washington’s ear, also felt he was not good enough.
I like to fill my books with real life people from the past. In “The Lantern” and the “Michelangelo & Me” series, Renaissance artists such as Brunelleschi, Donatello, and Michelangelo roam the pages.
Brunelleschi constructed the dome on top of the Florence Cathedral in the fourteenth century by laying bricks in a herringbone pattern to create a self-supporting structure, a technique he invented that is still used today. Yet he must have felt not good enough when he lost the contest to create the bronze doors that hang on the Florence Baptistry to Lorenzo Ghiberti.
Donatello’s bronze David, to me, is one of the greatest works of art from the early Renaissance, yet I wonder if Donatello would feel not good enough today if he knew his sculptured David was not the most famous David in the world?
Michelangelo experienced self-doubt when Pope Julius II asked him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In declining, Michelangelo told the Pope to ask Leonardo da Vinci since he was the renowned painter but the pope insisted that it had to be Michelangelo. The thirty-three-year-old sculptor acquiesced and, in 1508, must have looked up at the moldy and deteriorating church ceiling and questioned, What have I agreed to?
I believe Michelangelo also experienced self-doubt the moment before he chiseled the first mark in a misshapen and fragile block of marble that, for almost four decades, had been left outside and damaged from exposure to sun, rain and snow and had been sprayed with bird feces. This over twelve tons of derelict marble would become the most famous David in the world. How could Michelangelo not have struggled with self-doubt when faced with the task of turning a chunk of a mountain into this:
In my next novel, "Forbidden Night", the second book in the Forbidden trilogy that will be released soon, Meyer Lansky, the mob's accountant, is a minor character. I wondered if he suffered from insecurity and could not find any research to support this, but then I imagined being a member of the mafia required an air of bravado that any self-doubt would have to be concealed.
There is a long history of modern day artists publically acknowledging their lack of confidence—Meryl Streep, Maya Angelou, Helen Mirren, Will Smith and John Lennon to name a minute sampling—so I am in good company, but that offers no relief. As anyone who strives to do her best, whether in writing a novel, running a business, raising a family, or simply trying to collect the most Pokémon possible, other’s self-doubt offers no comfort as there is no competition in who feels the worst.
Years ago I attended therapy to understand why I’ve struggled with this issue. I learned many of the choices I made revolved around this armament of insecurity and if I didn’t address it the result could be emotionally and creatively crippling. I examined why I endured in unhealthy relationships longer than I should have, why I often played the role of peacemaker, and why I, yes, wrote like I was running out of time. Writers abhor clichés but a reason suggested in therapy for my struggle for perfection in an effort to be good enough goes back to my parents’ divorce. As an eight-year-old child, the theory went, I was not good enough to keep them together. Emotionally I felt responsible for my parents’ failed marriage; intellectually I knew this not to be true. As emotions often best the intellect, into my adulthood I have sought perfection to make up for that failing.
I’m not saying I agree with this theory but I can see the logic behind it. I grew up in a loving and supporting environment, even with my parents in separate homes, and as an adult I enjoy the fruits of wonderful family relationships so the divorce theory makes some sense. Nothing else occurred during my childhood to make me feel I cannot obtain my chosen goals.
Perhaps childhood issues have nothing to do with the feeling of inadequacy that many of us suffer as adults. A feeling of insecurity can arise from societal expectations to succeed, be clever, or fit in. These expectations have created a generation of over-achievers with no time for self-doubt, but self-doubt is in fact the key to accomplishing anything worthwhile.
Whatever the root cause of feelings of inadequacy, it is critical that we not allow our insecurities to stifle our creative pursuits. Bouts of insecurity are emotional and not intellectual. In my head, I know I am good enough. No, I am better than that; I am great enough. Then I look at the stark blank page and the blinking cursor on my laptop, read positive reviews of my books offset by negative ones, watch my book sales rise and fall, and my heart aches with that nagging feeling that I should close my laptop and turn to another endeavor. I don’t do it. I stare down the blinking cursor, put my fingertips on the keys, and write like I’m running out of time.