News and Interviews

I Have No Idea What I'm Doing

As someone who spends a good part of their life and career on the internet, I have a sneering, love-hate relationship with memes. Many of them are misused and go off the rails, but a good one can be golden. One of the memes that cracks me up every single time, no matter how poorly it is deployed or what the context might be, is the image of a dog doing a science experiment with the caption: "I have no idea what I am doing."

I gigglesnort every single time I see it. And, the more I think about it, the reason that I think this picture is so hilarious is that I am recognizing myself in the image. I am the dog doing science. I have no idea what I'm doing.

Writers, whether we are classified as emerging or have fully left our cocoons behind, are often placed in positions of authority. We are asked to teach workshops and to sit on panels, to give interviews and comment on goings-on in the CanLit community. We're asked to, say, serve as the writer-in-residence for Open Book Toronto. We write reviews and articles and essays. We have opinions and get ever better at expressing them eloquently. We tell stories deftly and with humour. We can be corrosive or forgiving depending on our word choice. We seem like we have it together.

Most of the time, though, I feel like I have absolutely no idea what I am doing at all. Every time I sit down in front of my laptop faced with the prospect of writing something, no matter what it is, I feel a moment of freezing panic. I am sure this is the moment that Whatever spell I have been able to weave over the world will suddenly fall away. My glamour will leave me, and everyone will finally be able to see that I don't know what I'm doing. I'm just forming opinions, having idea writing things, responding to things. I am suddenly convinced that everyone will suddenly clue into the fact that no one ever really gave me permission to be doing any of this; they might even realize that I am *making all of it up.*

The thing is, after this icicle of fear stabs me in the hear, I still fing the courage to try and get something down. Maybe the magic hasn't left me yet. Maybe I can squeeze out once for piece before I am unveiled as a fraud. And lo and behold, another review or poem gets done. The process repeats itself. I am absolutely certain that any moment the world will suddenly clue in to my cluelessness, that the science experiment will finally blow up in my face.

I never felt this more keenly, this sense of not knowing that the hell I was doing, than when I started writing about music. In March of 2010 (Not even three years ago!) I decided that I wanted to start writing heavy metal album reviews and concert reviews. I wanted to become more involved in the community that had saved my life six months before; I found myself forming ideas and opinions that I wanted to share; and I was going through a time of profound personal transformation, which I needed writing to help me get through. I contacted some outlets and they agreed to publish my work.

The thing is, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing; I'd never written a concert review of record review before in my life. I was listening to an album and images would come to mind, or I'd have an idea about what the artist was trying to get across conceptually. I would go to a concert and feel something, joy or violence, disappointment or catharsis. But when it came to getting it down, to writing about it, I didn't know what I was doing. I muddled through. I wrote reviews that were mostly poems and live reviews that were as much about my own emotional state as the performance on the stage. It was utterly terrifying.

I've gotten better, of course. I've gotten more adept as using certain forms, more confident in my taste and opinions. My lexicon and broadened and deepened, and my focus has become less myopic. Thanks to some excellent and very patient editors, my writing is better over all. What hasn't changed, though, is the fear, and the absolute certainty that I really don't know what I'm doing when I put my hands to the keyboard. Every time I'm asked to speak on a panel, especially to a group of writing students, instead of talking in detail about my process or organizational system or how I pitch, I really want to set my notes aside and just admit, "Guys, I am really making this up as I go along."

I'm not sure, now, if this feeling is something that will ever go away. The only thing that has changed is my capacity to confront it. When I experience the chill of fear when I sit down to write something, it is familiar rather than paralyzing. It still chills me. But instead of running away, I take another sit of tea and get to work. Even if I don't know what I'm doing, I'll figure it out.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Natalie Zina Walschots is a music writer, poet and editor based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publications, both in print and online. Natalie's second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems For Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press in the Spring of 2012.