Things People Don’t Tell You About a Life in Writing: Part 1
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Ok. Let’s just say it. Being a writer is kind of like walking around undressed all the time. By which I mean anyone can open a book and read about your most intimate experiences, whether that’s your mom, your cousin, a woman in the grocery store. The president. Anyone. And if you are writing poetry or personal essay, people will assume everything you are writing is autobiographical, even if you don’t specify.
Now, some folks don’t mind walking around with their literal of figurative clothes off, but many of us feel the wind and it can be a little startling. Not to mention the sense of being vulnerable and nearly skinless before the world. I did not sign up for that. I signed up for writing alone in my room and shoving the poems under the bed. I was the kid who, when interviewed for kindergarten admission, hid under her desk. The one who could barely speak up in class. And so writing has been an ongoing process of speaking up in class, raising my hand, offering my voice to the room.
To be honest, I am cringing just thinking about this! It brings back a very visceral feeling of discomfort. So why am I talking about it? Why not just let it lie there, and say nothing? I want to talk about it because I want to bring honor to that part of the journey. And yes, I see writing as a path, a way of life. Fill in, if you like, any life in the arts. Or any other true endeavor that stretches you to be more of yourself. Along that path we encounter certain challenges, certain monuments that mark the way. Cairns perhaps, those stone towers left by the travelers who came before. I hope this little piece can be such a cairn.
You will, if you keep writing, face shame. Embarrassment. Nearly unmanageable horror. You will think to yourself, “Who do I think I am?” You will hear all the voices of your detractors (past and present) talking you back down the mountain. Sometimes it will feel lonely. You will wonder if the flaws you’ve exposed are fatal, and mark you as unfit for love. You will lie awake in bed thinking these thoughts.
And then you will have days that writing feels freeing, gives you a life on land, in the air and anywhere else you might want to be. Miracles!
Up and down, back and forth.
These days, I have learned to manage a portion of those thoughts, and so they don’t tend to knock me down. But I also know that when I am taking risks, which is what I hope to be doing, I will face a whole new slew of these thoughts and feelings. They are part of the territory, the path I’m walking. And I believe that walking this path invites me to greet these thoughts and keep going. Nod to them, keep going. Wave at them, keep going. I am walking the path of letting go of their power to stop me.
And that’s what I want for you, too. A way to be with all of those voices, but keep going. A way to hold onto your own value, the value you have by simply being. Writing is an announcement of your existence. And of your particular flavor of existence. It is a claiming of your experience. Your thoughts. Your way of seeing the world. And yes, not everyone will love what you set to the page. That’s’ OK. That’s part of it, too. You will find your people. The ones who need exactly what you’ve written. They’re out there.
So allow yourself a life on the page if that’s what you want. And if you feel a little stretched thin, a little exposed, know that’s a part of the path. You are stepping outside the bounds of the village and wandering into the forest. You are doing this so you can look back on being human and make a report. Bring water. Bring a notebook. A pen.
Thank you, Danusha! This is so delightful and wise. What you say reminds me of William Stafford's poem: Report From a Far Place
Making these word things to
step on across the world, I
could call them snowshoes.
They creak, sag, bend, but
hold, over the great deep cold,
and they turn up at the toes.
In war or city or camp
they could save your life;
you can muse them by the fire.
Be careful, though: they
burn, or don't burn, in their own
strange way, when you say them.
Thanks so much for this one. You're a gift of a guide. Love the idea of stepping out of the village into the forest. Perfect.