Rebecca Stead, the Newbery Award winning author of When You Reach Me, was asked at a conference I was attending what advice she had for aspiring writers. She said most of us are waiting for someone else, some expert or authority, to tell us that we are writers (or singers, painters or astronomers). Unlike Harry Potter who got a letter from Hogwarts telling him he was a wizard, most of us will never get such affirmation. It is only when we take ourselves seriously and start doing the work of writing (or singing, painting or star gazing) that we will feel the confirmations.
I am not saying there is no such thing as innate and natural talent. There are people who have a gift and I sure hope they use their gift to bring joy and other good things to the world. I am talking about the majority of us who have a craving to be creative, to bring something of beauty into this world but are waiting for permission.
If we took away our tendency to compare, compete and commercialize when it comes to art, I think more of us would be willing to take a risk and explore our creative sides. And the more we allow ourselves to practice, make mistakes, and try again, the better we will become. We may never be a Shakespeare or a Rebecca Stead. We may never sing like Andrea Bocelli or know the galaxies like Neil DeGrasse Tyson. But we will, just through the sheer act of trying, get better at our art.
For example, I never thought I could sing. As a matter of fact, I was told I should not sing. But when my children were babies and required literally hours of rocking and singing to go to sleep each night, my voice actually got stronger. Unfortunately, when my third child came along, she wanted to be laid down and left alone when she was sleepy, so my singing voice went dormant again.
My late mother-in-law started writing poetry in her fifties. Although she had been a school teacher, she would always introduce herself as a poet. She was also very encouraging of any artist she would meet. If she met a young man who had written some poetry or a woman who liked to paint, she would introduce them to others by saying: This is José and he is a poet or this is Julia and she is a painter. Almost always Jose or Julia would try to correct her but she was so convincing in her judgment that they would hold back.
The world needs more beauty. The world needs more of us to give something of our soul to it. So sing, write poetry, paint or learn about the stars. It doesn't have to be perfect, it may not win a prize or bring in any money but it will bring joy to your heart.
Often when I visit an art museum, I hear people comment on abstract or modern pieces and say: I could do that. My response to them is: You should. This summer, I have vowed to paint something every day. I have given permission to myself to purchase the supplies I need and spend a little time every night creating or re-creating something. And it has brought me joy.