Scene: First day of second grade. Kids running around, showing off new backpacks, new shoes, same uniforms though.
The teacher clears her throat and announces, “Let’s write a journal entry about what we did over summer vacation.”
Tiny-Carrie, with pigtails and an already messy desk, glances around at her classmates. They’re talking as they write. Disneyworld, Disneyworld, Disneyland, France, a cruise in the Caribbean (with Disney Characters.)
Tiny-Carrie’s summer had been fun, but, not like her classmates. She’d hung out with her Grandmas, learned to make cookies, played make-believe in her backyard and loved every minute of it. Until her classmates started talking about the Disney princesses they’d met. A bit of fear crept into her brain, whispering that her summer had been stupid, that she was lame and a loser.
But, Carrie never liked being told what to do. Not by a teacher, and definitely not by some dumb, negative voice.
So, Carrie put pencil to paper, and began to write. She might not have traveled, but she had read. A book called THE BOGGART by Susan Cooper had launched an all-summer quest to learn everything about Loch Ness, its mythical monster and the magical-seeming land of Scotland. She’d even worked her way through “grownup” books explaining just how a monster might exist in the loch, and cookbooks about how to make “oatcakes.”
She wrote a story about going to Scotland, and all the things she’d experienced there. And as she wrote, it felt real to her. It felt just as fun, as exciting as her classmates “true” stories about Disneyland. Tiny-Carrie may not have traveled, but she had read. Now, in writing what she read, it was like real magic, making something out of thin air.
That’s what writing has always been to me. Over the years, I wrote my way out of countless bad feelings, out of fear about a surgery, or heartbreak over a person who didn’t like me back. My stories, although they were fictional and full of fantastic events, were woven with real truths, and real emotions. Re-reading them is re-reading a diary, even if it’s set in a magical land, and the main character is a red-headed warrior-princess sneaking into royal balls, instead of an awkward fourteen-year-old Carrie dreaming about attending prom.
Nothing I write is autobiographical, but it’s all true to my heart. Be cause of that, perhaps, I’d been reluctant to share my words with others. These stories were part of my very DNA. I couldn’t let random people examine them for flaws any more then I could appear naked on a subway stop and shout “JUDGE MY BODY!”
Until, a few years ago, I decided t I’d written a story I felt I needed to share. It, like so many others, had come out of heartbreak. My firm had layoffs, and as I job-searched and worried, I lost myself in a fictional world, comforting myself with words. But the story grew from there. I let my best friend read it, and it made her cry (in a good way.) She urged me to share it with others.
I got a new job, which proved to be an amazing place, but the story wouldn’t leave me alone. I wrote, and took the leap, sharing it with others.
Then, I started querying.
Suddenly, my emotional DNA was not only on display to the world, it was being given feedback. Tweak this. Cut that. Remove this character. This chapter is sappy.
It was, frankly, overwhelming. Eventually, I got control of my emotional ship, and became a VERY SERIOUS WRITER. (Joking. Mostly)
I wanted to write the BEST STORY EVER. (joking. Kinda) and somewhere along the way, I forgot how to call upon the magic of writing. Story-telling became work. An endless battle, fought against foes like “lack-of-stakes” and “show-don’t-tell.” I’d boot up the laptop daily, not because I wanted to escape into words, but because I felt obligated, dogged by a sense that if I didn’t finish my story faster enough, someone would tell it smarter, better, cooler than me.
Even worse, when bad things happened, I’d lost the ability to escape into word-worlds. If I tried, my inner critic would lambaste the new story as “trite” “sappy” “juvenile.” I could only remember all the negative things I’d ever heard about my words, and none of the positive. Out of insecurity, I mentally ripped myself apart. I was a sham. A fake writer. A dumb non-creative business person, telling stupid stories no one liked. With every insult I gave myself, I killed a little more of the magic I used to find in writing.
A giant, writing-shaped hole began to spread in my heart. I was lost, and missing something very dear to myself, a security blanket I’d had as long as I could remember. Worse, I didn’t know how to fix it.
So this year, I’m trying to find the magic again. I still believe in my stories, and in my words, but I need to find the joy again. I need to give myself permission to write sappy, trite things, and to not base my self-worth on what readers think of my writing. I can’t control their reactions. I can only control my own emotions.
Also, this year, I’m going to Scotland. For real this time. Not just in my imagination. Perhaps that mythical monster in the loch might inspire me once again.
I hope me pouring my guts onto this page might bring you solace too, or serve as a warning against following in my footsteps. If something you love is beginning to break your heart, stop. Let it rest.
The words will always be there for you, writer, waiting for your return.