The Naked Writer
The other night I had an inspiring conversation with a friend of mine. She has written a book, started a women's ministry and up until this year home schooled her three children. I suspect she cans vegetables and makes her own clothes but I am not asking. Homeschooling alone gives her my full admiration.
I asked her about her book and the process and she explained that she gets up early each morning to write. For the record "early" for some people is nine, while early for writers, I am discovering is more like four. Yes four in the A.M. Or as my dear friend Paula used to say "o'dark:30". My girlfriend explained she was up that early to get her writing done because "when else do us moms have time?" Which reminded me of what Glennon Doyle Melton said in Elizabeth Gilbert's podcast "Magic Lessons". Melton said she didn't have a room of her own but she had a closet and she got up each morning at 4 A.M. and hid in her closet to write her blog, which became "Momastery". As the dots connected and my friend filled me with inspiration I went home and kissed my husband good night and went to bed at 8.
The next morning I nearly leapt out of bed at four A.M. I poured a cup of tea and sat down at my computer and pounded out 1200 words. I went off to work with a wonderful sense of accomplishment until about ten in the morning when I began to feel like I had the worst hangover. My eyes felt heavy and I couldn't stop yawning. Perhaps I should have eased into the early morning writing routine. My mornings are generally early, even a Saturday morning may find me up by six but four left me feeling like I did when I worked night shift as a nurse in my early years. My head felt as though someone poured concrete in my ears and then gently started to tap ,tap, tap at the hardened material in a steady rhythm.
By seven that night I was half asleep on the couch and was in bed before eight. I tried again the next morning but added a quick workout, thinking I just needed to get the blood flowing for the day. That did help a little but I still felt worn out by noon. I also only wrote about 500 words so the enthusiasm and inspiration began to wane. That is when the self-doubt came back and the inner voice that started so many years ago started singing her same old tune.
When I was in third grade I wrote my first book. I drew a cover and wrote the synopsis on the back. I stapled the pages together and declared myself published. It was a simple story about two friends trying to play with their favorite ball but it was deflated and they had an adventure moving through their neighborhood trying to find someone who had a bicycle pump. That is the beauty of youth. I just sat down and wrote it and then was praised by adults for being so clever. Their words of praise a buoy to my inner creative self. Then you get older and that creative self has to take a back seat to the reality of the world. The adults around you lose that ability to see your inner child because you have to find a career, something stable, something practical. When I was a senior in high school and my guidance counselor asked me what I wanted to "do". I explained that I wanted to write. I was also the photography editor of the yearbook so she decided I should be a photo-journalist. I didn't know exactly what that was at the time but she insisted if those were my interests that would be the major I would have to have. She then told me there were only three colleges at the time that offered this as a major and I most likely would not get into any of them. She then helped me by creating a visual that I can still see to this day. She wrote down the colleges on a piece of paper then connected them with a line and wrote "long shot". She said maybe if I worked hard at a community college I could transfer to one of those "better colleges" but she wasn't very convincing. And she said the words "community college" with a tone and a facial expression that made me glance around the room for something rotten she might be smelling.
A couple months later my parents asked what I planned to do after high school. I had been avoiding talk of college because that conversation with my guidance counselor had left me shattered. She left me feeling, for lack of a better word, stupid. That I didn't have what it would take to get through college. She saw my grades which were average but she didn't see me. She didn't look more closely at the classes I excelled in ; literature, creative writing, English composition. She never encouraged me. We barely met before that day my senior year and yet her words had the ability to crush me in one swift blow. I told my parents that I didn't think college was for me. I made it sound like I really didn't want to go. I told them I thought travelling would be a good idea. My father's response was " A job is a good idea."
Brene Brown, research professor and author of several books including "i thought it was just me" about the culture of shame, states that shame needs three things "to grow exponentially in our lives; secrecy, silence and judgement." I had all three. I couldn't tell my parents what that guidance counselor had said and written down because of how it made me feel and I translated that to how it might make them feel. The embarrassment of that conversation was just too hard to share. Who would want to repeat such damaging words out loud? My self-esteem had already been circling the drain now it needed a life preserver but I had no idea how to ask for one. I never thought of this as shame but after reading Ms. Brown's many books I realize that is exactly what it was and that it never truly left. Shame has just been a shadow, following everywhere I go and that voice and those written words hovering ever so close.
Before that dream shattering meeting, I had started writing a novel. I was 17 and in the summer before my senior year I wrote each night until 1 or 2 in the morning. I typed away on my grandfather's old Smith Corona and went through several bottles of white-out. I won't try to tell you it was anything worth reading. It was two parts VC Andrews, or maybe bordering on plagiarism, and one half part creativity and one half part courage. What 17 year old doesn't think they can just do something and it will be a success? At the time I thought writing would be easy. And that summer it was. I could write for hours uninterrupted. I didn't think much beyond just writing. It didn't seem hard until I was told I wasn't smart enough. That was the message I heard. Whether or not that was what she intended. I can't say. Perhaps she was having a bad day. Perhaps she had wanted a creative life herself and someone had done the same thing to her. Maybe she thought she was doing me a favor. I didn't have the courage to tell her she was wrong. I just assumed she saw something in me that I hadn't seen and left her office, looking like Charlie Brown after he picked the wrong Christmas tree, deflated.
During that same time I was taking an elective course on creative writing and our teacher, Mrs. C., was a slightly quirky, loveable and inspiring woman. I had given her what I had written in the first weeks of class and she had marked it up in red ink and told me to finish it and send it off to a publisher. She told me what I had written was good. But the stronger words for me were the negative ones. I gave the wrong words and their visual too much power. I missed the simple fact that I could chose to take the positive words and use those as my inner mantra. I could speak my shame to those I trusted most and let it go.
It took years to be able to sit down and write anything. It takes courage each time I sit down and write words and hit publish on this blog. Each time it is like removing a layer of clothes and showing a little more of myself that I might not be comfortable with. Each time it leaves me feeling a tad naked, like that dream where you are standing in your underwear in the school hallway and everyone just stares at you as they walk past or worse, laughs. I don't write because I enjoy that feeling, I do it because I hope that someone may feel uplifted by my stories. That something I write may make someone say ,"Yes! I get that!" or "That happened to me! I thought I was the only one." That someone may laugh and see themselves in the ridiculousness of my life. That perhaps, some positive words may help delete the negative self talk or the recording in someone's head that says "you aren't good enough."
Words have power. Words have the ability to uplift or destroy. We can use our words to benefit others, to inspire, to empower. The only caveat is you have to be willing to bare your soul. You have to put yourself in the spotlight and let the chips fall. You have to be willing to get a little naked.
My girlfriend was right when she said that being a mom and trying to be a writer means sacrifice. That it means doing things like getting up at four in the morning but most inspiring was having her say simply "You can totally do it." Now those are words worth writing down.