The Silence {Writing and Self-Doubt}

“The Silence”


Tell me a piece of your history
that you’re proud to call your own
Speak in words you picked up
as you walked through life alone.
We used to swim in your stories
and be pulled down by their tide,
choking on the words
and drowning with no air inside.
Now you’ve hit a wall and it’s not your fault
my dear, my dear, my dear.
Now you’ve hit a wall and you’ve hit it hard,
my dear, my dear, oh dear.
It is not enough to be dumbstruck;
(Can you fill the silence?)
you must have the words in that head of yours.
And oh, oh, can you feel the silence?
I can’t take it anymore,
’cause it is not enough to be dumbstruck.
(Can you fill the silence?)
Tell me a piece of your history
that you’ve never said out loud.
Pull the rug beneath my feet
and shake me to the ground.
Wrap me around your fingers,
break the silence open wide,
and before it seeps into my ears,
it fills me up from the inside.

The creative writing class I am taking is forcing me to examine the habits and quirks of myself as a writer. For the first time, I am really taking my writing seriously, and writing or thinking of writing consumes me. One of my first assignments* in class was an exercise in self-doubt: Let your inner critic with its insistently negative voice have its say by writing out all your flaws, fears, insecurities; all the reasons you can’t be a writer. Then answer that voice by explaining why you write, what you want to write about, and how amazingly creative you are, and let your positive voice take over. Describe the desire to write that fuels your efforts. This exercise was a wonderful way to confront my doubts and affirm why I write.

As I wrote, the above song came on (by Bastille, one of my current obsessions) and the lyrics seemed as though they were written especially for me. This is the beauty of good art: it speaks to us, never mind what the artist’s original intent was. I don’t know what inspired “The Silence”, but to me it is about the journey of writing. The song reminds me of the stories I used to tell, and encourages me to write more, because “it is not enough to be dumbstruck”– brilliant story ideas mean little if I don’t write them down.

I want to be a writer. I hope to someday be a writer. I want to write. I talk and talk about writing more than I actually sit down and write. I talk about the shimmering, wonderful plots I am developing in my head and I live in a created world for days and weeks at a time, but rarely does that world make it onto paper. I daydream but I do not act. I want to write books someday, someday, but today and all the days that have come before I have been unable to finish a story. I get smug sometimes, pleased with a fancy turn of phrase that ends up being hollow nonsense. I write in my journal every day, but many days my journal entries read more like a diary than the clever observations of an aspiring writer. Aspiring writer—that just means that I have been too lazy to write thus far. I don’t practice writing enough!

I do what I know I should not: I compare myself to others, and I realize that I should have been writing more all along and that I should be writing more right now. I hold myself back; there are things I am afraid to write. I am too self-conscious. I write with a gang of cynics, prudes and naysayers lurking over my shoulder. Only once have I really managed to make a character come to life for me. I cannot determine what of mine is actually good writing and what is not. My writing is not poetic or metaphorical; it is prosaic as a kitchen table. I just sit down and write without technique or mapping. I do not want to share my writing with others most of the time because I cannot distinguish my writing from myself.

I feel like I have no time to write, but procrastination and distraction are probably closer to the truth. I use far too many words to describe things and I tell more than show. I am a good reader and editor, and I fall headlong into the worlds of other authors, but I don’t see how I could possibly do the same in my writing. I lack the discipline to keep on writing. If I don’t write now, will I ever be able to? There’s so much knowledge and life experience that I am lacking; how can I make my characters and their worlds authentic? I’ve never written a plot twist. I let fear and self-doubt barricade me so that I cannot reach the pen or keyboard.

But when the words fall over me like rain and I climb over that barricade and cling to my pen or keyboard like a life raft, I write without pause, without care, almost without thought. I write because the words follow me around until I pin them down on the page. I write because of the feeling of words flying out underneath my fingers in a steady stream, clicking into place and building something new. I write for that moment that comes after minutes or hours of staring at the floor, when a sentence unfolds like the life of a plant sped up bizarrely through time capsule photography, and the words fit just right. Sometimes I come up with an idea that begs to be written down; I compose a paragraph in my head and when I write it down, it looks nothing like I planned. That used to frustrate me, but now it delights me. I have learned to let the words flow and override my best intentions, and the result is often better than my original idea.

I love living in the world of my mind’s eye for days at a time, based on some inspiration; a book or song, a glimpse out of the corner of my eye, or a conversation. I take meandering walks along the river; when I return, I have words to put to paper. I write to make room for the little snippets of everyday life that call out to me: oddly named street signs, a mysterious bend in a creek, some family drama, the shimmering path made by the moon rising over the water. Writing calms me and exorcises my demons better even than reading does. I am learning to put my fears into my writing and banish them that way.

I was right about one thing in my self-doubt mode: I shouldn’t compare myself to others. I am a creative person, but my creativity comes out in different ways than in other people. I have a strong voice in my writing; when I write, it sounds more like me than my other forms of self-expression, and more like me than anyone else. It is awe-inspiring to realize that, as Pablo Picasso said, anything I can imagine is real; I can call up any scenario that I have the courage to write. I did, after all, earn entry into an honors society for my writing, and reading a selection out loud to an audience was an empowering experience.

I do write every day, and that is its own reward.

I am a strong written communicator. I always trust that I can make my point in the written word, whereas I often struggle to communicate the soul of my ideas in speech. I rely on writing to reveal what I hold inside. All my life, I have lived wrapped inside my favorite books, and all my life, I have dreamed of being the one to tug on the imaginations and emotions of readers, and that is why I write.

When I am writing, I never want to be anywhere else. Writing is a part of me and that alone is enough to make me a writer.

*Check out The Poet’s Companion (Addonizio, Laux) for the self-doubt assignment and more.


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