As I write this, it is so early in the morning there are still sounds of the night whirring outside my writing room window. It is pitch black. Crickets are chirping their low piercing cadence upon the silent dewy slumbering earth. This is my favorite time of the day to write. There is something especially inviting about writing ahead of the claws of the day. Your body is still warm and snug from sleep, and with fresh coffee in hand, you can crawl up close to the words because you’re ahead of the fear.
A good deal of writing is about fear and pushing past it to get to the other side to a more beautiful, more free place. Isn’t that what art is? What life is? What death and the burning threat of it, ultimately, is?
The further into my writing journey I go, the deeper I mine my own thoughts, ideas, projects, and experiences, the more I recognize fear as a guide. It is always an indicator — all be it a sharp and gripping one — of interesting things to come.
One of the fears that surfaces again and again for me is this (lame) limiting question: Who am I to tell my stories? Why would anyone care what I have to say? Why do I care? The amount of mental and emotional capital I waste on jabbing myself in the ribs with this shaming technique is truly astounding. It cuts absolutely every beautiful idea off at the neck. It is a way of beheading a perfectly fine creative endeavor — that of sharing my experiences with the world — before it can dare open its imperfectly hopeful mouth to speak.
So this week I’m loving the idea of turning my big fear into big motivation by flipping the question from: Who am I to tell my story? To: Who am I not to?
Who are we as writers, creatives, artists, humans, to hold back what we were given the tools and the gifts and the inspiration to offer? What else do we have, really, of any lasting value?
Maybe let’s stop killing a good thing before it even begins. Our writing doesn’t have to save the world or achieve massive wildfire success to be worthy of existing. It doesn’t have to matter to everyone else. It just has to matter to us. And we have to allow ourselves the space, the permission, to let the things we dream about creating come to life. To simply begin.
If you’d like to explore this concept further, do check out this article on OnBeing, by Elissa Altman, Writing and the Permission to Succeed: The Intersection of Art and Shame. Here, an excerpt in response to the all-too-debilitating question, Who am I to tell my stories?:
“‘Who are you to not tell them?’ a writer friend said to me. This writer friend — author of novels, memoirs, a short story collection — tells me that it is ownership, the acceptance of the fact that our stories make us who we are, that is the most complicated and treacherous part of what we do. When that ownership is withheld, we cannot succeed. When other forces say, no, that story is not yours, they have not only killed it and its place in your soul; they have killed you.”
We need your stories, dear one. We need them because the telling of stories is often the only way to own our lives, our selves. We need to tell our stories because that is what writers do, this is our work and our stories are the material. The telling of our stories is how we discover the many millions of ways they intersect with other people’s stories. This is the fabric of connection, empathy, collaboration, community, understanding. This is how we weave the past into the open palms of the present so that we can show ourselves to ourselves, and ourselves to each other.
If you never tell your story the way you need to tell it, in your own creative mysterious voice, the world around you cannot grow any richer for it. And the truth is, this is all we have: the story of our lives. And none of this is permanent, none of it. So whatever it is that burns within you to create, whatever the story you have to tell, give it breath this week. Start today, don’t wait. Put it into a body, a body of art work. Watch. Listen. Let it amaze you.
In closing and until next time, I leave you with a poem by Mary Oliver called When Death Comes. It is one of my favorites, because I too want to know that “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement.”
As I finish writing this post, the first little bird begins her dimpled singing outside my window. As if to say with full force and affection: the night turns into day, the day will turn into night, and all things will come and go in time. Write your story, tell your tales, give breath to your song, for soon enough, you and I will blink, and fly, and be gone.
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