What it means to be an amateur

Sometimes, if you’re listening and being open to the world around you, messages and lessons will be delivered just when you need them most.  For example, a couple of weeks ago I read an interview with singer-songwriter Banks, where she said, ‘I don’t know what chords I play, but that’s liberating.  I don’t have boundaries.’  And then a few days later I saw Justin Timberlake talking on Oprah Winfrey’s Master Class series.  He said ‘I like that moment when I can look at everybody and say, I have no idea how to do this.’

This approach of not quite knowing what you’re doing hit home with me.  Recently I’ve moved away from novel writing and have started experimenting with its polar opposite, flash fiction, and even more recently writing journalistic opinion pieces on the arts and creative industries.  Now, while I admit this isn’t entirely new because it’s building on what I’ve already learned from writing this blog, it’s still an unknown market, with its own structure, style and methodology that I know nothing about (let’s be honest I make these things up as I go along in my blog posts).  This is why I’ve been telling myself that I can’t do it, the self-doubt burrowing away until I’m convinced the safest way is to stick with what I know, less risk, less potential for failure.

When self-doubt is at its destructive height, a well-timed message from any source, a friend, a colleague, a celebrity, has the potential to become a game changer.  When Timberlake was talking about his approach to both his stage and screen performances, he said, ‘I like being a beginner… To always be the novice is exciting to me.  To continue to learn from all the things that I’ve been lucky enough to do.’

This reminded me that feeling out of my depth is a good thing.  Being an amateur at something means I can experiment, I can discover my own boundaries.  As Banks said this is liberating, a kind of developmental stabbing-around-in-the-dark along with eureka moments of progress that are nourishment for the creative spirit .  This for me is just as important (if not more so) than finding a market or audience, and hopefully will lead to honest and original work that I can be proud of.

And so to finish, here are more wise words from Mr Timberlake: ‘To be a master at something it takes a long time at a high level… and for me the way to do that is to always be a beginner.  If I’m not learning from something that I’m doing, then that means I’ve done it before.  Do something different… try new things, that makes more sense to me.’


2 thoughts on “What it means to be an amateur

  1. And your post has been timely for me, Sally. Thank you! Off to sign up for that photography class now…

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