I’m participating in the Writing Contest: Overcoming Writer’s Doubt held by Positive Writer
As I was pondering this contest, I was overwhelmed with the number of things I could say on the subject. A mountain of thoughts surfaced, obscuring clarity. And so I waited until some clear shape rose above the peaks. Finally the full moon emerged.
Like the moon, I went through at least four phases as a writer, each one with elements of doubt.
The New Moon
I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since 3rd grade, when I copied an entire book verbatim, turned it in to my teacher and said, “Look what I wrote!” Her response: “You wrote this?”
And I was like, can’t you tell that’s my handwriting? You ought to recognize it by now as many times as you’ve made me write, “I must not talk in school.”
Back then I yearned to say something, but didn’t have anything of my own to say. I had little or no light to reflect, like the new moon.
The Waxing Moon
But over time more light emerges. The lunar sliver begins to reveal itself. This is the phase where I began to develop my own thoughts little by little, and so I spent a good bit of time licking stamps and sending my work out into the universe. With every rejection, doubt increased. But with every acceptance, doubt diminished.
One day I received an invitation to speak at an upcoming conference called Women Writers: Making the Difference, sponsored by the NC Literary and Historical Association. I was a sliver of crescent among a sky of full moons shining in all their glory.
Maya Angelou, keynoter, owned the auditorium when she stood to speak. A hush fell over the place as she captured us with her story. She was a bright harvest moon.
It was a defining moment for me, seeing that glow and recognizing something of myself in her. Realizing that we writers, if true to our call, will overcome our doubts and surmount our obstacles, somehow or another.
During first quarter, ½ of the moon is visible for half the evening, then goes down, leaving the sky dark.
After my literary writing stint, I teamed up with my musician husband and went into the songwriting business. We wrote, recorded, hit the road, and performed our music wherever doors were open.
One September we were called to minister at Aqueduct Conference Center with the Ragamuffin himself, Brennan Manning. That’s when I heard the clear call to go within and find what compelled me to write.
“Then one day, just like that” (to quote Forest Gump), I told our agent I needed a break. I needed space. I needed solitude and quiet. That’s when he and his wife left the house (almost in a huff), never to return. And my songwriting career came to a grinding halt. Just like that.
The Waxing Gibbous (contemplative phase)
I never doubted the call to write. Whoever sits down and writes is a writer, good, bad, or ugly. Poor or rich. Unknown, little known, or well known. But the writers who truly have something to say are those who have heeded Rilke’s advice:
“You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now…There is only one single way. Go into yourself… and see what compels you to write.”
It’s one thing to have something to say. It’s quite another to have to say something. It was in the contemplative phase – which became more than a phase; it became a lifestyle – that I began overcoming writerly doubts in earnest because I was finally asking myself the important questions:
“What is it that you must write? What were you called to write? What were you born to write?”
The Full Moon
Writer’s doubt faded like a pair of old jeans when I stopped comparing myself with writers who’d “made it…” Because what did true success mean anyway? I had to redefine what success meant and what it didn’t mean. It didn’t mean that I should write for the market. It didn’t mean that I should emulate the voices of others who’d made it. It didn’t mean I’d ever make a fortune.
What it did mean is that I told my particular truth, just as those I admired most had done. And though I never compared myself with Maya Angelou or Brennan Manning or Frank McCourt, I came to realize from reading their words that we’ve all stumbled in the dark and fallen flat on our faces.
They were successful only because their themes were universal, even if their stories were unique. They never told me the moon was shining, but I could clearly see “the glint of light on broken glass” - in the context of broken vessels.
We’re all familiar with pain and rejection, disappointment and despair, and sometimes abject poverty. We’ve all suffered and bled and died a thousand little deaths. And lived to tell about it. So that others could feel and share in our grief and joy, could laugh and cry with us and feel less alone in this world.
What about you? Who helped you overcome your writer doubts?