I have never been big on New Years’ resolutions. Those long lists of “shoulds” are not my style. And they are always so punitive: “I am not thin enough so I must lose 20lbs” or “I am lazy and out of shape so I must start exercising five times per week.” Does anyone feel inspired by such harsh pronouncements?
But it is a brand new year. As well as feeling a sense of loss because the holidays are ending, I feel an urge to make the coming days count. I hang a new calendar, flip through the months and know that I want to make the most of these days. Like all of us who write, I want to produce more and better writing. What if I told you that the way to achieve this is by making just one change? I can see some of you rolling your eyes. That sounds like a line from a self-help book doesn’t it? And you may be thinking that becoming a better writer has to be more complicated. Why else would there be hundreds and hundreds of titles on the market filled with pages and pages of advice for writers?
That’s because the one change that works, is tough: Trust yourself.
How exactly do you trust yourself in writing? Here’s how: Be bold. Don’t second guess your instincts.
The story that I wrote for last years’ Sister Writes magazine was based on the free write topic- write about your first kiss. Are you kidding? Did I want to tell this very personal story? I wasn’t sure even as I began the first draft. But once I started the words came. I took myself back to that more innocent time and I wrote from my heart. I trusted that inner voice.
The writer Rainer Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, wrote: ” Always trust yourself and your own feeling,…”
For me, this means, trust that no one looks at the world in exactly the same way you do. This is your particular attitude. And that’s a great thing. Because attitude is what gives you a voice. You have a voice; use it. If the moon, glorious and full, in a blue-black sky on a crisp, cold night moves you to tears, then write about it. No one else will say it in exactly the same way. Pay attention to what moves you, good or bad and put the feelings into words on the page.
I want to say something here about writing and fear. Often the things that move us most, are scary to write about. Like my ” first kiss” story. Keep writing. Accept what you are feeling and see where it takes you. Know that by reaching deep inside for the words that convey love, beauty, heartbreak, anger and terror, you will grow as a writer and as a person. And your words will touch your readers.
Writing boldly like this, in a clear, strong voice uniquely your own, is a powerful experience. Does this mean everyone will love your writing? No. Disapproval and rejection are part of any writer’s journey. Sylvia Plath received numerous rejection letters for her manuscript for The Bell Jar. One editor said: “…maybe now that this book is out of her system she will use her talent more effectively next time.” Anne of Green Gables, was rejected by five publishers so L.M.Montgomery put the manuscript in a hatbox for two years then decided to resubmit. That beloved classic has sold 50 million copies. Margaret Mitchell received 38 rejections for Gone with the Wind before a publisher accepted it. These women trusted themselves. They found the strength to keep writing and their work found wide audiences.
Just remember that trusting one’s self is a process – not something that happens overnight. My first few months at Sister Writes felt like a roller coaster of highs and lows. Sometimes I was filled with confidence and other days I felt horribly exposed and vulnerable. I kept writing.
Here is a first step in self-trust that you can take today: keep a diary. A daily, rambling journal in which you tell the truth to yourself. Don’t hold back. The Russian writer Dostoevsky said, “Never lie to yourself.” Keeping a diary will keep you honest if you write about your true self; the unedited version. What is it like to be you? Write freely and impulsively; get straight to the point. Talk about your day. Include the ugly, funny, beautiful and frustrating parts. Describe the people you encounter. See them clearly and write exactly what you see. Writing this way gets easier if you do it every day. You will begin to recognize the times when your writing is false or forced. And that knowledge will make you a better writer. Your fiction will ring with the same truth as your diary entries. You will see that you have a unique voice and that it can be trusted.
Til next time, keep writing.