Let Yourself Be a Beginner

getting started memoir mindset Jan 17, 2024

I took a beginning drawing class at a local art store at the start of the year. I love the idea of being able to sketch simple scenes, and I’m a sucker for a fresh set of pencils. Our instructor taught us to create a value scale (a set of squares filled in with each of our pencils to show the various hardness and darkness of each pencil). She also showed us how to quickly sketch an item's shape, or outline, and how to fill in its form to bring dimension to it. This involved determining the direction of the light source and working from light to dark to create highlights and shadows.

When it came time to share our work with the other students, I fought back embarrassment for how basic my drawings were. The ten-year-old girl sitting across from me had produced sketches that were far more advanced than mine. The drawing of her hand looked like her hand. Mine looked like it belonged to a monster.

I know comparison is the death of creativity, but I couldn’t help but notice how much more sophisticated everyone else’s drawings looked.

As my excitement to be doing something new started to wane, I paused and gave myself a quick internal pep talk: I signed up for this class to have fun. I came to learn and practice a new skill. I don’t know how to draw yet. I’m not able to produce advanced work. Everyone has to start somewhere, and this is my starting point. Today, I get to be a beginner.

Try, and Try Again

I took a deep breath and got back to work on my apple, trying a few iterations of it with different pencils and paper.  When the class was over, I congratulated myself for trying something new, for pushing through the discomfort of not being very good at drawing and yet finding joy in it anyway.


Permission to Learn

If you’re new to memoir writing, you may relate to the discomfort of being a beginner. As much as you want to write about your life, when you try to get words onto the page, they come out clunky. All you can hear is your sixth-grade teacher chiding you for using bad grammar. You can’t remember the parts of speech, your spelling has never been great, and every fiber of you wants to quit because you don’t feel good at writing.

But what if you gave yourself permission to be a beginner? What if your grammar didn’t matter (yet) and typos could be cleaned up later? What if you could just tap out the stories that are in your head and watch them take shape on the page? 

When I got home from my sketch class, I pulled out my pencils and paper and tried to draw the candle on my coffee table. Like the apple I had drawn earlier, it looked pretty rudimentary. I couldn’t quite get the perspective right, and I felt a little frustrated by my incompetence.

A couple of days later, I took a picture of a tree with new-fallen snow on it and sketched it as best I could. Then I drew a portion of the house next door and attempted to capture the roof angles, the snow, the vertical wood siding, and the window on the side of the house. The window is all wrong, and I can’t figure out how to make it right. But I know if I stick with it, I’ll learn how to sketch the house and more adeptly capture the veins and shadows in the wood, and the highlights and shadows that are cast by the sunlight.

 The older we get, the harder it can be to let ourselves be a beginner at something new. As you begin working on your memoir, celebrate your starting point. 

If you’re willing to risk feeling incompetent and push through the early stage of learning new writing skills (or dusting off rusty, unused ones), you’ll be among the few who start and finish their memoir.

Need a little help to get going? Check out my “7 Tips to Get Started Writing Your Life Story.”


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