I pulled out a piece of creative nonfiction I submitted for publication a few months ago and scanned the first few paragraphs. I was horrified by what I had written. More accurately, I was appalled at what I had left out and embarrassed by how I had written what I had written.
To be specific, because abstractions really are the issue here, what I had not written were (and here’s a list – insert eye roll- and, I think this is becoming repetitive – a theme of these posts?):
- my inner thoughts
- a lot (all?) of my emotions
- how I felt about the experiences when they happened in the past
- how I feel about the experiences, looking back on them now, from my current vantage point (a point of missed wisdom, learning and reflection? Evidently).
Actually, it’s not really a list is it? It’s deepening layers of specificity of the same thing.
And the way I had written that CNF piece: with a lot of poetic flourishes (think feather boas, purple lipstick and high scissor kicks) as well as insertions of scientific facts harvested from an eclectic shelf of show off curiosities I seem to trot out when I feel cornered. The vocabulary I used was high and abstract; the syntactical maneuvers a bit somersault-roundoff-backflip-like, or, at least attempting to be….more of a trip and fall on my ass performance. [btw: click that David Lee Roth scissor kick compilation link, it’s hilarious.]
But here’s a positive discovery: I suddenly “see” this in my own writing (at least, tentatively…I remain a neophyte in this regard, but one must acknowledge even the smallest of progressions on this writing journey…there I go again, the inner scientist taking over with her mastered objective distance).
The thing is, for quite a while now, I’ve thought my lack of depth and insight in my writing has been a technical issue. So, I’ve busied myself studying sentence structure, syntax, hybrid compositions, and I’ve practiced with a super focused commitment to the craft of writing and my work just kept getting worse. I’ve been frustrated …bordering on hopeless (is it that I can’t do this writing thing?) and I wondered whether to quit.
I did quit for a month or two or three over the summer. I was miserable.
Sure, I could quit.
But then what?
So, not a technical issue.
I have other writers (alive and dead) (and artists) (and, in the spirit of full transparency, my therapist) to thank for gently nudging and supporting me to progress my learning these recent weeks to discover (and be able to “see” in my own writing what I haven’t been able to before): I’ve been withholding my self from the page (my thoughts, my feelings, my reflections, my values, my beliefs, my opinions…). The painful truth is that I haven’t believed what I have to offer is of value….so I play dress up instead.
It’s my own voice I must nurture. And accept.
In a truly wonderful November workshop, facilitated by Steve Edwards, through Larksong Writer’s Place, I wrote the following words in response to a prompt about what knowledge I would want to impart to my younger writer self (or a writer just starting out):
“…write with abandon. That is, not to censor yourself and to let the inner critic hold sway. And give yourself permission to question—interrogate—the reasons you think a certain way. And if the inner critic remains too loud—ask the inner critic what it needs to be quiet? What nurturing is it missing? What voice is it afraid of? Can you work together instead of pulling one another apart?”
Recently, Steve Edwards tweeted “Reminder to my fellow teachers who already know this but tend to forget: learning doesn’t always look like learning; growth doesn’t always look like growth. Your attention & care is a powerful force.” Thank you, Steve. This is exactly how I felt in your class: held and seen and cared for. I also sent this quote to my sister, also a teacher, who lives and works in a small Indigenous community north of the arctic circle.
And to my many friends and writer friends and loved ones (for I am blessed with so many of you), thank you for continuing to read me, lifting me up when I am down, and waiting, patiently, for my own words…in my own emerging voice.