Friday, November 4, 2016

Fearless in the Face of Ineptitude

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

To all of you writing your way through National Novel Writing Month, welcome to your first Friday! 

Weekends are a different jungle gym to climb and some of you will find Saturday and Sunday to be a fantastic day for playing catch-up. Some of you may even log some extra words over the next few days. But there are others who are going to be hitting their first real speed-bump. It might come in the form of football games that must be played or basketball practices that over zealous coaches think matter this early in the season, birthday parties that have to be attended, or Sunday school prep that has been put off for far too many days. 

Whatever your plight, I wish you luck and lots of words. I wish you caffeinated blood streams and spider veined eyes. I wish you STORY. May it keep you up late and drag your lids open early. Enjoy it.

Okay, that's done.

Now! Let's talk about this fantastic little quote I came across.

I totally and completely agree with Michael here. But it's hard, isn't it? To be brave when you know you're not fully prepared. To sound intelligent when you haven't a clue what you're doing. To pass yourself off as an expert when it took you three hours and four craft books to settle on a simple writing quote to dissect (ahem).

I had a moment the other day. My dad would call it a learning experience. Yes, well.

So, here it is. I was teaching a classroom full of teen writers and things were moving along swimmingly--I was feeling brilliant and the students seemed to be soaking up my wisdom like little sponges. When, all of a sudden, I had the regrettable impulse to call on the girl with her hand raised.

"That example you used, it's not even a preposition."

She said that. I swear. And ignoring the fact that I don't think I'd said anything at all about prepositions, I was flummoxed. Had she the wherewithal to ask me to define preposition, I could not have done it in that moment. I was that upside down.

Now, it was eight in the am and I hadn't had enough coffee and, really, I just wanted to talk about Mr. Tumnus, but in the blink of an eye the train of thought that thundered through my head went something like:

What did she just say? Were we talking about prepositions? Did Mr. Tumnus talk about prepositions? No, wait. What is a preposition? Oh my gosh, I can't GRAMMAR this early! What if she asks me a grammar question? Look at all these little eyes looking up at me. THERE ARE SO MANY OF THEM! What if they all ask me a grammar question? That teacher there, in the back of the class, the one with her headset on, does she teach History or Math? Maybe she teaches English. Maybe she knows what a preposition is. MAYBE she should be teaching this class instead of me. Or! Maybe I have a cookie in my purse. If I hand it to the preposition girl, maybe she'll let this all go and we can talk about Mr. Tumnus and Lucy and WHAT THE HECK IS A PREPOSITION?

For the record, I went home and brushed up on my grammar rules, but have you ever had a moment of complete ineptitude? The kind of moment that shoves you into the spotlight and your own self-consciousness points fingers your way and calls you a fraud?

I have them all the time. I have them when I sit down at my computer to tell a story. I have them when I settle into someone else's work poised to give feedback. I have them when I'm parenting and when I'm teaching. 

Sometimes we just reach the end of what we currently know or can physically do, and in that moment we have to make a decision: Do we march forward or turn back?

And it's here that Michael Cunningham's quote encourages on. At times, venturing forward, showing ourselves fearless when common sense would say we've gone on far enough, is healthy. 

When it comes to drafting stories, we must be willing to push ahead even when our lack and our naivete plop down cross-legged on our keyboards and stare us down. Awareness of our ineptitude is one thing. Knowing our limitations, our comfort zones, our areas of expertise--these are all good things. But when, in the course of writing, we come face to face with all the things we don't know, can't do, have failed at, we are better off making a note of it and then barrelling onward regardless. 

We can look things up. We can learn. We can make another effort to conquer the mountain that stumps us. We are not frozen in our current state. Of all the things we humans are capable of, it's our resilience that amazes. We can survive our own ineptitude, you guys. We can. 

And today, when you sit down to write, remind yourself of that. Your own limitations are not set in stone. You may one day grow past them, but until then, understand that you may catch sight of them from time to time. My advice? Easy. 

Throw ineptitude a wink and type faster.

ALSO, hey! Guess what?



  1. Can I just say I enjoy your posts so much!? You have a fun, catching style ;) And.. yes.. love that quote.. love those moments (learning experiences)... And it is so good to remember to just keep going, keep walking, keep moving despite how worthless or silly it may seem. Or even how slow the process seems to be. Thanks for the encouragement!!

    1. I know! She's so fun!

    2. Oh! Thank you so much. Love you guys! We'll keep stumbling along together, yeah?

  2. I feel you. Grammar and my brain have never worked great together. I can scrape by, but it's a struggle.

    When I was teaching over the summer, I had a boy ask me for my thoughts on anti-heroes. Nothing really came to mind, and sometimes people have different views on what classifies as an anti-hero. I asked him for an example of someone he felt was an anti-hero. He gave me one, and I didn't recognize the story at all.

    I'm working on getting comfortable with saying, "I really don't know," when I'm on stage, and still feeling like I brought something of value.

    1. Oh yes. That's empowering though, to be able to say, "You know, I have no idea. I might be able to find out for you, but that's just not in my wheel house."

  3. I can't relate a whole lot to your grammar problem, since that is one of my strengths; however, spelling gets me. With grammar, I can usually identify consistent rules based on parts of speech and sentence structure. With spelling, sometimes the rules apply, and sometimes they don't. I just don't understand it. Now, when I'm working on my projects, I just use spell check and am comfortable with my shortcoming. Admitting it to people who expect me to be good at it...well, that's another thing entirely. Thanks for the reminder, Mrs. Dittemore! I look forward to getting Angel Eyes someday so I can read it, but I want the type with paper pages. ;) Great post!

    1. Hey! The blog deleted my comment here. What is THAT about? Anyhoo! I said, it is hard to admit to others that we have weaknesses, but I think if you give it a go from time to time, it will get easier. And, honestly, transparency is a good thing. It reminds people that their inadequacies are okay too. Anyway, you're smart. You know this stuff. I'm just rambling.

  4. How is Everyone doing on day 4 NaNoers? I am daring to crank out 3k, putting me at 10k, but so far I am only have done 1500. But I haven't had a chance to check in since I am busy in the evenings, so I wanted to say something about how I am doing. This is my third year in NaNoWriMo, and I have won both times. But both manuscripts got so bad I pretty much dumped them :)

    1. That is okay, Gabriella! Entirely okay. I wrote 50k words during NaNoWriMo a few years back and didn't end up using a single one of them in the final version of the book. But they were very helpful words and I grew through the process. I learned where I didn't want the story to go and that's important. Keep writing friend. No word is wasted if we learn from it.

  5. Well I need to start looking at these posts again. It's been awhile since I've looked at Go Teen Writers.