Vulnerability at its finest
Over the summer, I decided to stop talking about the concept of writing a book and actually take the steps to make it happen. I enrolled in a six-week writing class.
Having weekly deadlines helped me be consistent with my writing. We were given prompts that triggered thoughts, emotions and words to flow out of me. I got into a daily routine of writing in these six weeks. It was exhilarating.
Then the class ended and my consistent writing came to an abrupt halt.
I was writing things here and there but it wasn’t steady and wasn’t easily flowing. I recognized that accountability was key and I no longer had it.
My teacher called me a few weeks after the class was complete and invited me into her home group. It was going to be a 10-person, seven-week session where we were required to submit up to five pages of writing. Two other women from my class were going to do it as well. One of them had written such an emotional story in the class that our teacher made me finish reading the ending because she was choked up. I thought about this piece for weeks. This new at-home group was a little more than I wanted to spend but the accountability, constructive criticism and room for growth was exactly what I needed. I said YES.
Over the past few months, I spent time here and there writing my piece for the first session. I wrote two separate pieces and kept revisiting them. They both needed a lot of work and really weren’t doing anything for me.
On the Monday leading up to the first session, I decided to pull out a paragraph from one of the pieces and start something entirely new with it — TA DA! There we go! That’s what I was looking for.
I felt really good about how it all came together but then I realized that I had to read it aloud to a group of strangers. It was a piece that made me extremely uncomfortable. It was a story about my past — a time that is dark.
This was vulnerability at its finest.
I realized that if I didn’t share something that made me vulnerable, I was living small. I wasn’t allowing myself to play full out and really unleash all that’s within me. If I want to write a book — I’ve got to put it all out there. I sent it to Staples to have it printed — I needed it out of my hands to avoid continuous editing.
I woke up the next morning with extreme heartburn. I thought about the pizza I ate the night before but didn’t think it was the cause of my heartburn. I took a Prilosec hoping that it would relieve the discomfort. It didn’t. I texted my best friend, a fourth year medical student and asked her what she recommended.
I tried to go about my day like it was an ordinary one but I had a ton of roadblocks. I’d sit at the computer trying to draw up a contract for a new client and then start thinking about the piece that I had to read aloud in the class that night. Petrified. What if they rip it apart? But isn’t that what I’m there for?
I took a walk around the neighborhood to distract myself — picked up the 11 copies of my piece that I was going to read from Staples.
I watched the clock for the last two hours leading up to the workshop. I checked the distance between my apartment and my teacher’s apartment on my Google map. I knew exactly what building she was in but I needed to know how many minutes it would take for me to walk the less than seven blocks.
When I arrived at her apartment building there were two older women waiting for the elevator. I knew right away that they were heading to the same place I was. I started to question this — am I going to be the child in the group? I walked into the room and it was an eclectic group. All but one were older than me. They were all people who had been in this group for years and knew how it was going to go. I was one of three newbies and I felt that way. I double-wrapped my feet around my legs and was doing the exact opposite with my body that my yoga teacher would tell me to do. I could not loosen up.
One by one people started to read their pieces and give criticism. I was pleased with the feedback I gave and it was well received. I started feeling as though I was fitting in with the quirky group of people with big personalities and excellent feedback. After three people said, “I’ll go next” it naturally turned into people just starting their piece. I couldn’t get myself to take the plunge.
One of the women who was in the elevator with me reminded me of Patti Smith — edgy, no patience for bullshit and very direct. When she was reading her piece, a car alarm was going off outside the window. She stopped reading her piece until someone else in the class closed the window and then she resumed.
“You don’t want to go last, right?” said the teacher to one of the other newbies. “No.” she replied. By that time, the only people left were the two of us. My heart started thumping. Part of me really wanted to run out of that apartment. Everyone’s writing was so strong — how did I fit in here?
The woman started reading her piece. It was the same one that she shared in our original class. She started crying and the teacher started to pick up where she left off. Then the teacher lost it and asked me to continue.
“Are you a public speaker? Do you have to read aloud for your job? You’re really good.” said my teacher when I finished reading. I reminded her that this was the second time she had me read the last paragraph of this woman’s piece.
Then it was my turn. Last person and everyone was ready to go home.
I was trembling in my seat, flipping my curls back and forth as if that was going to do something to ease my nerves. I took a deep breath and read my story.
“I don’t buy it. I just don’t. You need to dig deeper. It’s uncomfortable but if you want to write about this subject, you have to.” my teacher said.
She was right. It was on the surface. There were a lot of parts that I could have expanded on and also a lot of things that I could show instead of tell. It’s something I majorly learned from her in her original class — doesn’t necessarily mean it comes easy to me.
“Is the feedback too much? Do you want to hear it? Is this helpful? Do you want this critique?” — my teacher asked.
My body and facial expressions must have been so tense that I was coming off as extremely uncomfortable.
“No. I need this. I want the constructive criticism. I want to do something with my writing. I want to become better at it and this is the place to do it.”
“This is my first attempt at a writing class or anything. I really want to make this a priority.” I said.
“Really? You haven’t taken any other classes. Wow this is a really amazing starting point — you’ve written some amazing pieces already.”
All I could think was how far I have to go and how uncomfortable it’s going to be.
I walked out of the building with one of the women discussing different books she suggest I read. I told her how I’ve been really bad about reading but it’s a major priority for me.
I thought about my heartburn from earlier that had passed. I realized that it was self-induced. I was so terrified of this class — the vulnerability, the criticism and the judgement that I caused myself to have physical pain.
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” — A League Of Their Own
I returned home and flipped through the edits to my piece that each of my classmates made — I knew I had a lot of work to do but it was going to be worth it.
Everything about this experience was extremely uncomfortable and I knew this was exactly what I needed.