This guest post is written by Jessica. Her post is about writing, being creative, and the insecurities experienced by creative writers. I hope you enjoy it!
I consider myself a fairly well-rounded, artistic person.
I’ve never had an issue being on stage. In fact, out of all the arts, I’m most comfortable acting in the theatre. Singing is alright, though I prefer to harmonize. I would say that I’m only a singer because I’ve played piano since before my memories even begin. I’m not extremely comfortable playing piano in front of people, but I’ve done it enough that I’ve learned to put aside my fears and just play.
However, the art that I hold closest to my heart is creative writing. With the other arts, rarely will I ever perform something that is completely mine. I provide the interpretation, yes; but it is someone else’s words or music that I follow. With creative writing, though, the entire piece is mine. Every choice I make is a labor of love, and I know that people will be reading and judging what I have written. Everything from the content all the way to my story’s execution is closely examined.
Maybe I’m insecure because I still consider myself a fledgling fiction writer; my creative writing skills are only six years old. But it was something that I wanted to pursue after reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible during my senior year of high school. I entered college with a one-track mind to get an English degree and be a writer. Granted, I had never actually written fiction, but it just seemed right.
During my third year of college in Spring 2009, I was eligible to take a creative writing class. Early on in the semester, our writing guidebook presented me with a list of fairly common prompts. I looked over my choices individually and waited for one to ignite my imagination. And then my eyes graced this phrase:
“The first thing I want in the morning is…”
Reread the phrase again. Let its simplicity sink into your mind.
“The first thing I want in the morning is…”
I know that it’s relatively banal at first glance. Many would skip it in favor of the more imaginative prompts on the list. But immediately I could hear a tired, bitter woman’s voice announce, “The first thing I want in the morning is a cigarette and a cup of Joe.” Her voice had a worn rasp; her breath exhaled stale smoke that lay dormant in her lungs for decades. The only thing that woke her up in the morning was her bodily cravings for caffeine and nicotine.
The voice didn’t stop after that sentence, though. She talked about her “shitty apartment” and the never-ending trains that rushed by her window. She continued to talk, and I began to understand just how dismal her life really was. For nine pages, I listened to this unnamed woman and captured her essence with my pen.
That was my first “writing rush.”
Although this was only a short story for my class, my professor coaxed me to enter it into our school’s creative writing magazine. I didn’t want to submit the piece. It was one thing to present the story to my class of ten students; it was another to have anyone outside of my comfort zone read about this woman who spilled her secrets to me. The only reason I seriously considered it was for two reasons:
1) if our piece was accepted, we got extra credit for the class; and
2) they were offering cash prizes for the top three fiction works.
In layman’s terms, I wanted that extra A+ and the $250 cash.
I honestly don’t know what my professor saw in that story, but I took his advice. Months later, my fiction piece “Red Lights” was featured in the magazine. And, on top of it all, I won first prize.
That win bolstered my self-esteem. To have your first piece of creative writing praised by the students and faculty of your school is an amazing honor. I finally knew the feeling of hooking an audience and reeling them deeper into your story. At that moment, I knew I had what it takes to be a writer.
Fast-forward to 2012.
With the exception of a few pieces here and there, I am at a stalemate. I have a fancy English degree (with dual emphases in Creative Writing and Composition & Rhetoric as well as an Interdisciplinary Writing Certificate). I studied writing theory. I studied the history of writing. I studied writing techniques.
After six years of obtaining a writing education, all I know is that my words are insignificant.
From a critical and editorial standpoint, this apprehension is a good thing. It shows that I’m learning; I am aware of my shortcomings, and I am teaching myself how to fix them. I can look at my works and see the ways they can be stronger.
Yet my insecurities are rising again. I’m not longer a big fish in a little pond; now, I’m competing against seasoned writers who have more years and wisdom than I do, and I can see exactly how their fiction is better than mine. It stifles my creativity because all I do is worry.
Right now, for instance, I am preparing a piece for the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, a regional competition that celebrates the stories and traditions of the Appalachian mountain region. As soon as I sit down to write, though, I keep hearing echoes of negativity:
“Someone else probably has a better story.”
“You know that people with better skills are going to be entering their own works.”
“You can’t write; you’re just the idea person who makes up a good story now and then.”
“There’s not really a point to writing this; they will just reject your story anyways.”
Each day for the past week, I have sacrificed ample writing time to my destructive inner voice. I hate that it’s winning, but there is no way to combat these feelings. To ignore them would mean that they are wrong, and I don’t think that they are.
In my opinion, to think that you’re a good writer, to tell yourself that you “deserve” to win, is incorrect. I am going up against hundreds of people who received the same amount of education that I did (some probably have more education and experience than me). Every single one of these writers deserves to win, just like I do.
Yet I have to remind myself that I can’t let the negativity destroy my spirit. I must use the negativity to keep me in check, to keep me fresh and alert. I need to look for ways around the negativity, and I should strive to prove my inner self wrong.
This is why I am insecure about writing creatively: you surrender your soul into every story. Each piece seems insurmountable, but you fight through each obstacle. And when your piece is finally finished, your entire heart is so woven into the tale that letting someone else read it gives them access to your deepest core.