by Kim Fulbright @kimfullofbright
Parenting has made me a good writer. Not really, but I’m working on it. I have some kind of writing anxiety. Not so much the getting-something-down-on-a-blank page variety but the kind that begins when I assume anyone might read the product, even me. When I journal I can’t look back at other entries I’ve written because it makes my palms sweat and I start nervously humming. It’s one of the most vulnerable things I can do.
I’ve never liked my writing. It’s been a theme throughout my life since at least high school. I remember when I applied for the yearbook staff I was supposed to submit a sample of my writing and I ended up writing something new. It was about how I’ve never written something I’m proud of- blah, what a boring theme. I have felt this sentiment throughout my life. What a disempowering script that runs through my head.
The feedback we hold onto usually continues to confirm what we already believe is true. My Master’s thesis got called “pedestrian” by the department head (as well as my thesis chair) to other students after I had graduated. This particular memory always pops up when I begin to feel small or vulnerable with my writing, in any form. I’ve been told over and over that I don’t write academic enough for academics. I know I have issues with grammar. I write like I talk. I never quite know where to put commas, so I guess. I know none of these issues are new or isolated to me. I have trouble writing because I end up assuming it’s not good anyway, so why put too much of myself into it. The problem is there absolutely is importance in being able to write and communicate ideas to others clearly, especially in the workplace. I’ve used my writing anxiety as a shield for a long time and have missed out on opportunities because of it.
No other process works the same as writing when trying to organize thoughts, feelings and ideas. I have convinced myself that I don’t like writing but I’ve recently admitted that it’s not that I don’t like writing it’s that I don’t like feeling bad about myself and writing is an area that makes me feel bad and insecure. And when we feel insecure we feel judged. Big surprise, being in the educational system is all about being judged. I’m someone who got by with good grades but they meant very little when the voices in my head told me each time it wasn’t because of the writing it was because they probably didn’t read it, or other students did worse, or it was an easy assignment. Here and there I would have teachers worried about my passive voice or sentence fragments but it was easy to dismiss because obviously I knew I wasn’t a good writer.
I can’t stop trying to write because something keeps pushing me to try. I always write when I have a lot on my mind or I’m trying to inform out my position on an idea. I interpret this as evidence that writing is useful and meditative to me. I know writing shouldn’t be about being judged, it should be about connection and ideas. I want to connect through writing. It is truly spiritual when I read and connect to someone’s ideas or the beauty of their words. When you read something you can relate to without any self-consciousness of social graces (i.e. you can be in your pajamas pacing the floor with sweaty hands because you like something you’re reading so much). I love to read and appreciate people who have a writing style that seems effortless. This has typically has added to my writing anxiety. I wish when I sat down to put words on paper it sounded different than what comes out. I get caught-up in what I feel I’m unable to do and get discouraged quickly.
With the focus on what I am unable to do and stuck in a school-writing-model I lose the objective I have at heart which is connection. When you write for connection it is vulnerable in a completely different way than knowing you’ll be graded. You’re not only putting your skills out for people to judge but ideas you think about and parts of yourself that people may not know.
I’m concerned how many important voices we’re missing in conversations because of the silencing we do through dismissing their ability to write. In the era of blogs, essays, and social media I feel I am missing out on conversations because of my writing anxiety. I want to be able to respond to people who share their ideas and want to know their ideas impact. I want to be able to put my ideas out there when I feel I need to. I find myself too self-conscious to even Tweet most of the time. I wind up wondering about correct prepositions and better vocabulary and then a tweet becomes way too much work. In an attempt to be more vulnerable in the world and stop silencing my own voice my challenge has been to write with the intention of sharing. It’s hard, scary and may not solve the problem of the self-created identity of “bad writer,” but as a new mom I feel like I have to model what I would expect and hope for my son. I would hope that he feels worthy of connecting to others by sharing when he feels the most vulnerable and most importantly listening for the voices that have been excluded.