Back in the Day, When I Was Young…
My trip back home to Michigan was full of revelations for me. The time I spent going through notebooks was probably the most enlightening part of it. It surprised me how…unrestricted my writing used to be. I wrote whatever came to mind without worrying about how it sounded or how to finish it (at least at first). I would write about anything. If you gave me a topic or if I saw something, I’d write about it. I had unrestricted access to my own thoughts, my own expression. I would get an idea and run with it, even when the neighborhoods around me became unfamiliar (or maybe especially). This seems to be why my breakthroughs are few and far between now. When I get an idea, before I pick up my pen, I’m thinking, evaluating. Is this worth writing down? Is it a short story or novel? I really should be working on finishing a thousand other projects I’ve already started.
I used to know that writing could surprise you, that a seemingly unrelated stream of consciousness could flow down to a project you’ve been trying to get to for days. I used to be willing to follow the white rabbit down the hole and see where I ended up. I wasn’t afraid to fail, to dead end. Just because an idea petered out then, didn’t mean I’d never get back to it, couldn’t use it.
I felt freer to play—with perspective, with situations. I wrote whole scenes several ways just to see what would happen. First drafts didn’t have to be perfect—sometimes they weren’t even coherent—they just had to be given the opportunity to breathe, stretch, and gaze around; given the time to grow into something.
I used to have notebooks for early morning thoughts and nighttime ponderings. I knew writing needed to be a joy first and a job second.
“You Must Have These Credentials to Ride This Ride (or Write This Fiction to be Taken Seriously)”
The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve restricted myself. Suddenly, there were all of these restrictions: societal, academic, genre-based. Time constraints were placed on both what I wrote and what I wrote about. Over the years, writing has become harder for me. I’ve had too many voices in my head. These voices are comprised of all of the advice/criticisms of teachers and rejections. One teacher called my creative writing “too indulgent.” Another said I wasn’t digging below the surface enough; my writing didn’t have depth. But by far one of the most restrictive things anyone ever said about my writing was meant to be a compliment: “You write like Toni Morrison.”
Great. Now I write Southern Gothic, Greco-Roman tragedies with Biblical allusions fleshed out with socio-sexual deviance perpetuated by racism and classicism, byproducts of the legacy of slavery. So this cute little idea about the lying woman about to be exposed by her impending class reunion and my attempts at writing a Harlequin romance surely must be abandoned! I’m supposed to be writing upper echelon literature that will eventually be canonized, required reading in high schools and college. I’m supposed to be writing works that people write their dissertations on and turn on the deconstructionists so much they can barely analyze the selves and others in it. The thought of having to be so great paralyzed me. Instead of simply having to contend with editing myself out of a story, I had a pressure to deliver.
But the most crippling voices belong to the rejections–three of them, to be exact. I was no longer the “golden girl” of writing. Suddenly, faced with the possibility of failure, I found myself developing a fear of it that I’d never had before. So much of my self-image was wrapped up in my writing that each rejection felt like a personal judgment on my worth, not just as a writer but as a person. They weren’t rejecting manuscripts, they were rejecting me. Whenever I’ve been personally rejected, I’ve changed focus, pretended that whoever or whatever rejected me wasn’t what I wanted anyway and moved on to something else at which I could be more successful. I couldn’t do that this time, because writing was the thing at which I had always been successful. I couldn’t stop writing entirely. But I could always stop submitting. If you don’t submit anything, you can’t be rejected. Even the writing of this guest post has been hampered by my fear of rejection, of my writing being found defective.
Handing In My Resignation
Well, no more. I quit. I’m no longer going to be restrained by fear. Neither the fear of failure nor the fear of not being a good enough writer to write the stories I think up will be allowed to stop me from pursuing this dream any longer. I can’t let my own inner editor edit me out of finishing my stories for fear I won’t “stick” the ending. I can’t let the fear of not living up to others’ expectations keep me from writing what I want. Most importantly, I can’t let the fear of never being published rob me of the joy of writing and striving to share the characters and stories I love with others.
Erica Hearns holds a (heretofore) completely useless degree in English Literature and has aspirations of an MFA, as well as blogging and publishing world domination. When she’s not outing lying protagonists or helping them fall in love, she updates her four public blogs: Indigo Moods (relationships), What I Wanted to Say (personal), Copywrite1985 (writing and literature), and 2blu2btru’s Reviews (TV shows, movies, and music). She has one patient and longsuffering boyfriend of over three years and an inordinate interest in getting a fluffy white cat and naming her Miss Chancellor. She loves God, pasta, movies, yoga, cinnamon, caramel, and broccoli. She resides in Orlando, FL.
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