When Your Own Writing Intimidates You

Thursday, September 01, 2016
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Well, it happened. I couldn't put it off any longer. Yesterday, I celebrated my fortieth birthday. I spent the day volunteering in my son's classroom, picking my daughter up from cross country practice, and attending curriculum night at school. (Don't worry--I celebrated properly this past weekend at a concert by one of my favorite musicians from the 1980s and a surprise birthday dinner!)

I spent some time this past week reflecting on my writing, specifically, sifting through some of my old poems. I joke that I used to write very bad poetry, but as I looked back on some things I wrote a long time ago, it wasn't always so bad. I would sit in typing class in high school (yes, I'm showing my age here) and crank out the darndest things during the time we were supposed to be doing warm-up exercises. I still don't know where they came from. Here's an example for you:

What is my loss?
. . . a soul that cannot
be saved? A grieving
face beyond the shield
of the brave? My loss
seems great, though I guess
it is not. No one has ever
noticed the days I am distraught.
The turmoil never lasts, though
chronic it is. The anger subsides
though justified, it depends.
Who can be saved?
What lies in the shadows beyond?
What makes up the ingredients
of life's covalent bond?

Sure, it's not Pulitzer Prize-winning stuff, but it's still hard to believe I wrote than when I was 16. I'm pretty sure I couldn't write something like that when I was 36. And I wrote a lot more poetry than I remembered. I used to be able to sit down, put my pen to paper, and the words would tumble out before I knew what was happening. Looking back, it was a gift I never appreciated. I've actually started letting things I wrote a long time ago intimidate me. There's a little voice inside my head that says, "I'd like to see you write a beautiful poem now. Especially after spending all day writing service articles and shuffling your kids back and forth to their activities and then coming home and making dinner."

Why am I letting this voice intimidate me? Why am I so afraid to open up one of my manuscripts and start revising? It's almost worse than writer's block, because I know I've written material in the past that has promise, but I feel like if the muse showed up at my doorstep right now I'd slam the door in her face because I'm afraid of confrontation. My husband (who is not a writer but is always willing to offer advice) told me not to let these thoughts paralyze me. He suggested I just open up a blank document on my computer and see what comes out. It doesn't have to be a novel I've been working on or a specific idea. Just start typing and see what develops--I might be surprised.

I'd love to hear from others on this topic. Have you ever been intimidated by work you've created in the past? How do you move beyond those fears and doubts and keep writing?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who has recently discovered how fun Instagram can be, even if she remembers using the original Polaroid camera back in the day. You can follow her on Instagram @rlroberson.


Anne Louise O'Connell said...

Oh my! Renee, you've climbed into my brain and dug into my very soul! When I read excerpts from my last novel I almost can't believe I wrote it. I am 'working on' the sequel but the fear of not meeting the expectations of my readers who are waiting for the next one is quite overwhelming. Add to that a recent separation and it's easy to say I'm too busy re-establishing my life and doing client work. But, I think the advice your husband gave you is bang on. I'll just imagine the blinking cursor as a beckoning hand, welcoming me into that fictional world I've created and need to expand now :)

Unknown said...

Renee, I call that negative ego voice Easin good out) the itty bitty poopy comittee.!I notice it, din't judge it, and tell it, "thank you for sharing-but no thanks!" Then I try my hand at whateverbis opposite of the negativity. Wahla! I usually feel pretty good about what came up since everything is a work in progress anyway. You take what you like and leave the rest. Not challenging our fears keeps us digging deeper into the fears. Nothing ventured-nothing gained as the saying goes is what I remind myself.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--When you're bothered by that internal critic, write to them. Sit down, imagine what they look like (mine wears cat-eye glasses, a ratty old robe and her gray hair is all teased up into a beehive... oh, and she's also smoking a cigarette and the ash is about three inches long) and write to them. Explain your ideas. The writing jam you're in (if you ARE in one). Where you plan on going with it. Defend it.

You might find you know more about the project than you think you know.

I did NaNoWriMo several years ago and had no idea where I was going. I finished the third draft of it this summer, and STILL I thought I knew what the plot was... Surprisingly, the characters took over and demanded different twists... and a different ending.

Marcia Peterson said...

Renee, I understand and relate to all that you're saying. However, more good and great writing is in you, even more than before with all of your life experience. If you make time to tend to your writing life/relationship it will flow and delight you. :)

Angela Mackintosh said...

Oh Renee, I've felt exactly the same way. When I open the manuscripts I started almost ten years ago, I'm intimidated by my own writing. It's raw, edgy and fierce. The plots are twisted and there's a darkness to the work that I don't think I'll ever return to. Every time I open them (there's three) I have a fear of failure. Maybe that's what it is...or the fact that I've matured so much. It's a decade later! So, as much as it pains me, I've decided to let them all go. I just don't think I can get back to that headspace. If you can, then go for it. But for me, they are now all considered practice for my real novel. NaNo is coming up! :)

Renee Roberson said...

Wow, thanks everyone for your kind and constructive comments! It's so nice to know we all face that "inner critic," and that we can sometimes be intimidated by our own work. It sounds like we've all got various projects we need to either get back to or let go. I think knowing how to distinguish between the two is the first step, and then onward from there. Happy writing!

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