What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?
(Author: Leo Babauta)
With apologies to Mr Babauta, I admit that when I first read this prompt early in the morning, my heart sank a bit and I was disappointed. I had been looking forward to another soul-search; a query that would be just as at home if rolling off the lips of my therapist. It was only after I resigned myself to a short post in answer that I began to think seriously about the things that I do to keep from writing. (You see what I just did? I just cheated again…changed the question to suit my purposes. Looks like this might become a pattern….) It turns out, there are a number of issues I have that I’ve never really addressed. So, you see, my original apology is quite a sincere one.
When I was 9 years old, I received from a neighbor, a blank lined diary for my birthday. It was cream-colored and leather bound with a little lock and a key on the side. The tiny lock and tiny key proved superfluous and were immediately thwarted by my tiny, prying mother the second she realized I was using it for its intended purpose. For the next 10 years, I religiously kept a chronicle of my life, documenting every small detail; from my dreams of one day being as beautiful as those raven-haired, italian cousins at whose weddings I was just old enough to join the adult tables, to the overwhelming crushes, to the discovery of pot and sex and Ani DiFranco. Like my to-this-day idol Anais Nin, I recorded my life as if it mattered, as if someday, a daughter might look at me with contempt and disdain and I might produce these volumes and say: “You see? I do get it….”
Shortly after college began, though, I lost this habit. For no good reason, the chronicle ceased, with only random pages stuffed into notebooks after something especially notable occurred. I shake my head at myself still, for discontinuing this practice during what I once would have stated as the time in my life wherein I changed and grew the most. (I know better than that now….every stage is noteworthy and important—but it was my 20s….aren’t we all mesmerized by what we’re learning in our 20s?) Regardless, THINGS got in the way. Weekend trips to see a boyfriend that I would break up shortly after beginning my university career. Trysts with the slew of boys that would follow. Practices for a new-to-me sport called rugby. 30 page English papers for Dr. B__ who required the entirety of my attention and effort in all her assignments. Binge-drinking and bartending, hangovers and laundry. LIFE got in the way of my writing. The living that should have been food for all of those hungry blank pages is what I allowed to keep me from writing.
These days, it’s life still, but even more than the decay of all those years is the obvious superiority of everyone else. It’s Pope who stays in my mind: “…shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again.” When I was young, I believed in my writing. I was proud of my twists of phrase and sharp tongue. I’ve since drank deeply from that Pierian spring though, and I’m sober. I know people personally whose knowledge and talent towers over mine. I’m embarrassed and tongue-tied when confronted with their prowess and ability. Daily I cringe at my lack of knowledge. I stand in their shadows, shrinking, hoping to remain quiet enough that my own obvious ineptitude stays hidden and doesn’t call attention to itself. How can any effort I make even begin to compare to these giants that I admire? What is it that I can contribute that could be more meaningful or pertinent or better said?
But, enough is enough. I know that I can’t quiet that voice, that obstreperous voice, that keeps whispering to me of my idiocy. I can’t silence it, but I can stop paying it so much heed. The answer to the latter part of today’s prompt is no, I cannot eliminate that voice from my life. I cannot eliminate it, but I can find a way to work around it long enough to say some things. I can name that voice and call it out and take away some of its power over me. I can write anyway. In spite of. Regardless. Notwithstanding. And so I shall.
I scoffed at this prompt, Mr Babauta, but in the end, I appreciate it and marvel at its hidden power.