As a person who uses a wheelchair, there are a lot of strangers who take great pains to acknowledge my bravery. You know, for having the fortitude to keep on rollin’. I simply smile and thank them, and maybe laugh a little to myself. But the truth is, I want them to be right. Bravery, it would seem, ought to be pretty standard issue for a person who considers herself a writer of memoir.
The trouble is that I’m not brave. Even those days when a storm blows just loudly enough to remind me how cozy my home is—the kind of day that’s made for writing and sipping tea—I have to coax myself to the computer. I’m likely to invent some horrible task to occupy my time before finally settling down to work, like scraping out the cat’s litter box or, heaven help me, exercising. Over the years, instructors and peers have repeated the same chorus: “Get your butt in the chair and the writing will happen!” Well, pardon me, but my butt’s always in the chair.
Assuming the position of a dedicated writer doesn’t seem to be enough, at least for me. I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I find writing almost never comes naturally. What does come naturally is fear. In fact, I fear everything I write is the stupidest, most boring thing anyone has ever written in the history of the universe.
That’s a pretty heavy load to bear. To be the one person who has written the stupidest thing in the whole universe.
Yeah. That was me. Nice to meet you.
So, what can be done? How can I combat this overwhelming sense that I’m not good enough, that I’m not as talented as so-and-so, that I’m revealing far too much of myself and should be ashamed of every admission I make on the page? Even this one.
Well, I don’t know exactly. What I do know is that I want that thing I had when I was 8, sitting cross-legged on the floor writing stories by hand in a black-and-white composition notebook. Filling pages without stopping to question a particular phrasing or the impact my words may or may not have on posterity. Sure, maybe I spelled ‘they’ with an ‘a’ instead of an ‘e,’ but at least I didn’t toss a story in the garbage just because a bathtub floating in an ocean filled with pirates seemed too ridiculous. I just wrote.
My older brother once told me he wanted to become a chef. When I asked him why he didn’t apply to a culinary institute, he said, “Because it’s just easier to go home at night and play video games.” And he was right. It takes bravery to face failing at something you really want. Unfortunately, my courage in writing seems to share an inverse relationship with my age.
The good news is that, over time, I think I’ve discovered that I can substitute bravery with an equal measure of faith. The faith necessary to continue writing what I know is no good. Such faith allows me to tack the word ‘yet’ to the end of that criticism.
My mentor, Lee Martin, always tells me to drown out the critical voices and to just have a conversation with myself on the page. This practice reminds me that it’s okay—possibly even really important—for my ambition to outweigh my talent. It’s okay to hate what I’ve written. I have to remember that I love writing and that what I really hate is feeling inadequate. It’s okay if I’m not that brave. I just have to have faith that underneath the rambling is the germ of an idea that at some point, with weeks and months of revision, might actually become something I’m proud to say I wrote.