Writing and the Paradoxical Commandments
I’m not a writer
I spend most of time with people who like to write, and despite pushing through and doing it, almost everyone is secretly plagued by the following: “Who do I think I am!” “I haven’t got anything new to say.” “I’m not a proper writer.” “My writing isn’t ‘good enough.” There are more, but these are the big juicy ones threatening to immobilise our writing hands and typing fingers. I totally get it. I can feel the same anxieties.
As for considering ourselves actual writers, don’t even go there. This is an almost magical title, accompanied by a heavenly choir, reserved only for those who have an actual writing job, like a journalist, or those who have written actual books – published books (choir goes up a few octaves). I had an exchange with a wise person once on the subject. I said “I’m not a real writer.” “Why?” she said. “Because I haven’t written a book.” I said. “How can you write a book if you’re not a writer?” she said. Good point.
But I know my limits, and getting people to allow the label ‘writer’ is beyond my skills and best throws of inspiration, at least for now.
For now, my mission is simply to encourage people to write – first and foremost for themselves, because they’re compelled to and because they can. Amongst other things, I took it upon myself to add a line to the Paradoxical Commandments in support of this mission.
The Paradoxical Commandments
What are the Paradoxical Commandments I hear you cry? Well, if you’ve not heard of them, they were written and published in a pamphlet by a guy called Kent M. Keith, a college student in the sixties. Mother Theresa is often credited with them having simply stuck them on her wall (was she a secret PR whizz?).
The first time I heard them was at the cinema.
‘Bombshell’ (the documentary of Hedy Lamarr’s extraordinary life) was coming to a close and in a telephone message to her children (of which she left many having become a recluse), she shared the commandments. I went through a pack of tissues at her faith in these words in the face of the sadness of her life. It was incredibly moving.
So here are The Paradoxical Commandments: People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centred. Love them anyway. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway. The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway. People favour underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
I added - and I’m sure Kent, Hedy, or Mother T. wouldn’t mind: "You will doubt yourself for not being good enough and having nothing new to say. Write anyway." For me, this sums up nicely the message that you should write because it feels good, write because you can. Not for anyone or anything else.
Very conveniently, each of these commandments are also perfectly formed writing prompts (the second part of each commandment: ‘love them anyway’, ‘do good anyway’ etc.). Take one or more of these as a prompt and give yourself five minutes to write continuously – see what comes.
So please, know that you’re not alone in all your anxiety-ridden glory, and write anyway.