Friday, June 24, 2005

Who Says You're Not a Writer?

The other day, a client told me, “I’ve been talking to a lot of other aspiring writers and I can’t believe how unsupportive they are. I had an editor interested in something I’d written and two other writers were unbelievably negative. One said my writing wasn’t good enough for publication. Another told me that this particular magazine never publishes new writers. I was so depressed after I heard these remarks that I haven’t had the heart to send the editor anything.”

The need for support and affirmation can squeeze the joy and life from writing. It can paralyze us. We agonize over the opinions of others. Caught between the insatiable desire to write and the terror of failure, we require validation the way a hungry child cries for milk. I find this ironic since the act of writing is almost always a solitary passion..

Even if we write for our own pleasure, we cannot escape the feeling that we are doing something slightly illicit or at the very least, unworthy of praise. The paradox for those who want to sell, is that we have little choice. We cannot both keep our work to ourselves and publish it. Yet in deciding to make the attempt, we must face the tiger. Sometimes the tiger is an editor with venom in her veins. Other times, it’s a friend who, in the most loving this-is-for-your-own-good tone, assures us that we are bound to fail. (It is the pleasure we sense in her voice that is most disquieting.) It can be a fellow writer who feels better about his own work when he claims power over ours. The tiger can be anyone who has an agenda that even unintentionally or subconsciously, collides with our own.

Exposing our words to an editor (or to anyone else for that matter), brings us back to childhood when all-powerful teachers brazenly defaced papers with blood red marks, leaving our carefully crafted sentences in ruins (and us in tears). Even now that we are older, our stories remain our children. And if our children are taunted or attacked, we are naturally overwhelmed with rage and defensiveness. But the reality is that our stories are not our children. They are only words. They do not give us value. Neither should our self worth or belief in our abilities be colored so absolutely or our hearts be broken, by others’ response to them.

Admittedly not everyone who aspires to be a published writer can shape words into clear, inviting prose. Personally, I believe that writing is not brain surgery and that most people with the desire can be taught to write passably well. Take a look at the vast majority of articles and books published today and you will see that being a writer on the level of Hemmingway or Dostoyevsky isn’t required. What is required is to learn your craft, to put in hours, perhaps years, soaking up the essentials so that the best in you emerges. Then you might want to armor your heart against the cold reality that faces every aspiring writer: The world is not awaiting your words.

One of the truths that many of us find it difficult to accept is that we create our own reality. Words are only words. We attach meaning to them depending on who we are and how we are in our lives. The words “You can write,” might fire us to great heights as they did Erma Bombeck. The very same words could feel like ridicule to those who can only see the worst in themselves.
If we depend on others’ opinions to fuel our desires, to keep us going through the storms, to believe in dreams, we may find ourselves mired in despair. But if we believe our inner voice, if we are lit by a purpose that springs from somewhere deeper than words, then it does not matter what others say. We simply know that we were meant to write as surely as we were meant to breathe. “You are,” we can safely and confidently say to the pessimistic friend, “entitled to your own opinion.”

So ask yourself, in the deepest part of your soul, are you a writer?

If the answer you hear is, “yes,” then you are. And no one, not an acquaintance, not a teacher, not an editor, can take that away from you.

What happens then when someone stomps on your dream? You simply smile and start writing.

That is all.

Copyright 2004 Lynn Colwell

Permission to reprint granted by Lynn Colwell

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