I have been slowly working through the book “Writing Life Stories” by Bill Roorbach. So far it’s a fantastic book with examples, exercises and guidance to work through the process of learning to share personal stories through words, with supportive examples based on a group of people taking classes with the author.

An exercise near the beginning of the book stood out to me. I think it’s a great idea for anyone battling the minefields (or mind-fields) of a creative process.

The exercise is to write your own General Disclaimer.

Roorbach says that most people, before presenting new work to a group (or anyone), such as sharing an exercise in front of the class, typically spout off a disclaimer before sharing. I see this often with visual artists at critiques and I imagine it happens in all creative fields. Before turning their painting around to face the group they might say…

It’s just a study. I don’t have enough practice or training. My brushes are old. I was running low on white paint so I had to improvise. I was losing daylight. I need a better easel. This is a new thing for me as I typically paint (insert different subject here). My dog looked like he was about to pee on the floor so I rushed to get it done to take him for a walk.

disclaimer cartoonHe calls it the Generic Disclaimer because each one is similar to the next, oozing of self-doubt.

So he asks his students to write out their own general disclaimer as an exercise, and then to save time during the workshop they raise their hand and simply say “generic disclaimer” when they feel the impulse to apologize for their work.

This is his exercise for writing your General Disclaimer:  (translate it for your creative field)

“Make up a little card or maybe a big one. Write GENERIC DISCLAIMER across the top in big letters, then write a paragraph or so apologizing profusely for how rough and unfinished your exercises and first and second drafts are going to be. Talk about how little time you had, how tired you were, how ornery your computer is, how dull your pencils are, how you’re not used to doing exercises, how you just couldn’t think, how you write and work and think differently than other people do. Get it all down, all your best excuses and reason, all your self-doubt and blaming and delusions of grandeur. Make it a nice card, and put it out and have a look at it whenever you feel discouraged about your writing, whenever you feel everyone in the world is farther along than you are.”

So I thought I’d share mine. Here goes…

I apologize in advance if this is dreary, boring and I use way too many common clichés. I’m sure a fourth grader could do much better. I’m just starting out at this writing thing, and I’m not very good, but I hope to get better. I don’t spend near enough time on it, which I’m working on. I have all these thoughts floating around in my head but every time I try to put them to paper it doesn’t sound at all like what I want to say. I have SO much to learn and regretfully no formal training, so I fully expect it is an awful burden for you to read my drivel. I may also say something disagreeable, hurtful or make you angry, so you may want to cover your ears. I’m not sure why you would want to hear what I have to say anyway, because there are so many other good writers. I really do apologize in advance if this is bad. Really, really bad.  So sorry, really.

I feel like I need to hop in the shower to wash all this negativity away, or quiet the voices with a Tylenol or a nice stiff drink and then sleep it off, or erase this from my hard drive and pretend this whole writing business was just a dream.

But I actually feel better getting this all out on paper and sharing it outside of myself. It’s no longer swirling around in my head paralyzing me from doing anything, and I know that I am not alone. I feel empowered to take another step forward.

Share your General Disclaimer

If you would like to share it below, I would love to hear it.  And I think you might feel better getting it out and seeing that others feel the same way. It’ll be cathartic (like people on home renovation shows who take a sledgehammer to their outdated kitchen to tear it to the ground in order to build up something beautiful. Ooh, I can’t wait to be able to do that with my kitchen.)

Be advised: I may steal some of your points to add to my disclaimer!