I Can’t Write for Sh*t!
That minor detail isn’t going to stop me, and it shouldn’t stop you either.
Writing is a talent that apparently you have or don’t have. See? That sentence didn’t even sound good and now the opening line is ruined and I am already using contractions. You can stop reading now, but I will keep going.
I love to write but, it just doesn’t flow out of me the same way it does for other people. It’s not that I don’t have the drive or motivation. I have a dozen half-written works sitting stagnant on my desktop right now. But, I don’t finish them. Over the years I have received mixed reviews about my writing and this has turned me into a closeted writer. I do it, but I don’t feel comfortable doing it in public. Still, the ideas keep flowing and as I muster up the courage to write, it cascades into this sequence of inspiration, execution, doubt, distraction and eventual delay. To clarify, this is how my so-called, “writing” process, usually goes:
Step 1. I read something, think something, or stumble upon something that makes my fingers tingle with creative thought.
Step 2. This creative thought manifests into an idea. Inspiration beckons me! I must write all the things!
Step 3. I get excited about the idea and open a new document to start writing. As I begin to write I think to myself, “Maybe, the world will be better for reading this incredible piece of writing I am about to produce. Maybe this will go viral!” (Viral, eh?! Who the hell do I think I am?)
Step 4. Life interrupts me. This could be a phone call, a pee break, or even just a piece of dust fluttering by my screen and I have to stop writing to have an, American Beauty moment, before I realize I have distracted myself from my rigamarole.
Step 5. I regain focus and look at what I have written. Suddenly, my confidence wains and insecurity seeps in. All of a sudden my writing doesn’t look good anymore and I think to myself, “What does this sentence mean?Why does this sound so convoluted? Why did I write this in the first place?” Then, I come to the quick conclusion that no one in their right mind should ever read this, I am a failure and I should get back to do “productive” work to make myself feel useful again. I guess, the Protestant work ethic really did a number on me.
Step 6. Time goes by and still I think about writing, but insecurity does not let me continue. It’s like a prison guard on my creativity; it dangles the key in front of me and I can’t grab it to unlock myself free. So, I usually numb the pain of potential failure with distraction. I watch a TV show, listen to NPR, eat a lot of food, have a smoke (which I love and loathe at the same time) or try to start a new hobby.
I sound pretty ADD, and maybe this isn’t about writing anymore, maybe it’s about….screw it, let’s go ride bikes!
I digress! In my mind, I believe I should be able to do this writing thing. I was fortunate enough to have a pretty good education and I always did well in school. I should have the tools to be a great writer but others did not seem to agree. In class and outside of school, my writing was always deemed, “too informal” or, “too conversational” or “not adhering to conventional writing guidelines.” These comments were taxing, so, as I grew older my writing confidence dwindled. Eventually I stopped writing entirely, even in my journal. I told myself, “If I can’t write well, I should not write at all.”
This mindset is a travesty of the writing-impaired commons. One, that I hope others don’t fall victim to. So, I’m taking the first scary leap and trying to write once again, and this time for all to see. It is a new year, I want to get over this fear and my mom always told me, “Do the things that scare you the most.” Or, maybe that was Chuck Palahniuk, or Gandhi. Whatever, it’s a good quote, so deal with it.
How did I come to the conclusion that I am not a good writer? Well, I was young. At seven, I loved to write and I shared all my silly stories with my family and friends. Once a week, my third grade teacher would collect our stories after Writer’s Workshop, and pick one in particular he thought was the most well-written. He would hang that story on the board, and stick some gold stars on it to denote excellence. It was a pretty big deal.
Week after week, my pencil smudged hands clasped in anticipation, hoping I would be chosen, but it didn’t happen. So, I went to my teacher after school to edit my work in anticipation that my extra effort would pay off. Yet, I kept getting the same feedback: “Try harder” and, “almost there!” Long story short, I was never picked, and at the tender age of seven, I stopped sharing stories with my family and friends and concluded that I was not a good writer.
Sad right? Wrong! To cure this insecurity, it only takes one good mentor, and in eighth grade I had an amazing English teacher, Ms. Juarez. She was unconventional and loved beat poetry. Ms. J taught me that writing is something that speaks to you from within and what matters most is putting it out there. She inspired me to write poetry. She pushed me to write even if it meant using slang; She was that cool! My writing confidence came back. I started writing in a journal again and I signed up for beat poetry slams. I was a writer again! I even made it to the Final round in the Youth Speaks poetry competition. Although I didn’t win, I didn’t care. And, I was lucky to compete with others who did go on to excel, and I was honored to share the stage with them (Mark, I’m looking at you, buddy).
When I got to high school, I thought I could reclaim my writing glory. I was attracted to authors that didn’t follow conventional writing rules. I fell in love with writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, Thomas Wolfe and Jack Keroac. They all defied the rules of writing. They splattered words all over their pages. They created intense imagery from breaking the rules of grammar and their work was better for it. I remember reading Jack Keroac’s, On the Road and I loved his eye-witness accounts of people and places. I loved the book even more when I found out that he scribbled it all down in notebooks and later typed it out in three short weeks on a continual reel of paper. Renegade writers like Keroac did not worry about grammar and style, they wrote to write and and were rewarded for it with a massive audience. I was motivated to write again, and I wanted to get better. I knew the first step was putting the words on the page and sharing it with others.
However, with every creative piece I turned in, the same nagging feedback came back to me. I was told that my writing style was too conversational, and that I was almost a good writer, but I just needed to try harder. I did try and I still try. It frustrates me that even now in graduate school, I am still receiving the same feedback as I did in third grade. It further upsets me when I receive this kind feedback and then go read published works that have typos or weird sentence structure, and I get distracted and forget what they are trying to convey. Then I think, “Maybe, that’s what my writing sounds likes to other readers.” All at once, the creeping insecurity starts to settle and I start to cringe anytime I try to write. Sometimes it gets so bad that I flinch when I compose emails. I fear that the recipient will realize that I am an imposter dressed in scholarly attire and rightfully disown me after reading my blather.
Nevertheless, I am going to embrace this stupid anxiety and just keep writing. Done is better than perfect. I tell myself this repeatedly each time I open a new document. And, with that mantra, I encourage anyone and everyone to write. It’s therapeutic. It’s inspiring. It helps us understand each other better. You can edit it and sit on it for a while, but if you are scared, just put it out there. Let the judgers judge, let the praisers praise, and don’t be discouraged if it falls on deaf ears. We think in thoughts and we speak in words and somewhere in the middle we write them down and then this happens….