A letter to the girl I met who was shy and fearful she could hardly talk
We met recently when you had an opportunity to show me your writing and give me the privilege of mentoring you a little.
You could hardly talk, you were so nervous, and when you did, it was in a tiny little voice whose very tone apologised for making any noise in the world at all.
I asked you to show me your work and you refused. You were too scared, too shy, too terrified that I was going to destroy you, rip up your beautiful, hard-won words into shreds and tell you to go home, that you and your dreams had no place here, amongst these writers, these confident, capable people who knew what they were about and knew who they were.
You thought I'd find you out as a pretender and a try hard. You thought I'd tell everyone else and you'd be the butt of jokes, the loser everyone talked about behind their hands.
When I asked you to write anything at all, even just six words to describe the lake and the mist, that beautiful, exquisite scenery just ten metres from us, you refused.
"I can't do it," you said.
I felt a little stuck.
"Okay, so you can at least do this," I said. "You can write down the three worst things that could happen if you showed me your writing today."
I closed my eyes and covered my face so I couldn't see you and so that you'd know I wasn't looking. I turned away from you so that you could have privacy while you wrote down your three biggest fears.
And you didn't find it hard. The words sprang easily from your pen. You had covered half a page before you knew it.
I poked an eye out between my fingers. "Can you do the opposite?" I said. "Can you write down the three best things that could possibly happen if you showed me your work today?"
Immediately you knew what those three best things were and you wrote them down.
We talked about fear, then, and you tried, mostly successfully, to hold back your tears. You live with a deep terror that invades your day and hijacks your dreams. You're afraid of what you do, who you are, who you could be.
I pointed out that already at that point, you had done three brave things. You had signed up for the mentoring session. You had turned up. You had sat down.
Your eyes brightened, and then lowered again.
"But maybe I have no talent," you whispered.
"Do you like writing?" I said. "How does it make you feel?"
Again your eyes lit up. Writing made you feel good, relaxed and happy. You loved reading. You knew you wanted to write stories like the ones you enjoyed.
"You have talent," I said. "The truth is, if you have interest and love for what you're doing, everything else can be taught. The key to being great at something is being interested in it enough to do the work. If you can do that, you can be good at it."
We sat there together. A layer of fear had been dissolved.
"Now can you show me what you're writing?" I asked.
You pulled out a sheaf of neatly type written pages, guarding them with your crooked arm. More than half a novella, planned and written out with care and dignity. I was amazed. And then I was delighted. Because it was good.
Jewel, you have a future in writing. Yes, you have things to learn, of course. We all do. And so we should. (When we think we don't need to learn any more, we should give up the job.)
You're frightened, yes, that's true. But you know what? You can get over that. You took huge steps towards overcoming your fear when you came to sit down next to me. And you conquered your immense terror of rejection when you showed me your baby, your beautiful story.
Getting over fear, or doing anything that seems impossible, is simply a matter of taking small daily steps and practicing. Right now I'm a 40 year old woman learning the cello. I've had three lessons. Yes, only three. I'm slightly embarrassed at how bad I am. I'd love to play like my teacher, who makes his cello sing. Mine is more like cat yowling and stick scratching. But I'm confident it will come. I practice every day and every day I sound just a little tiny bit better.
Jewel, you can write something every day. And every day you can take a tiny brave step - talking to someone you're nervous of, speaking out loud in the mirror, signing up for something you wouldn't normally do.
I believe you can be a writer - if you want it enough, and if you're prepared to put in the work. And I believe that one day your voice will speak confidently, clearly and meaningfully and you'll know that you have something to say in the world that is important.
I changed your name because I didn't want to embarrass you publicly in this post. But I changed it to Jewel deliberately because not only do I think you have a jewel of a story that's waiting to be polished, but because you need to look at the jewel that you, yourself, are. Beautiful, in God's sight and in the world.
Catch your dreams and don't let them go. Don't give your life to fear. It doesn't deserve it.