“If you think you are ready to publish, you are not even close. So many writers are trying to fast track to publishing, without putting in the work. This work is definitely not ready to show anyone,” she spoke to me as if I were a child writer trying to bypass experience to win the lottery. Thunder roared as her end punctuation. Mid July thunderstorms were my favorite, but I barely noticed it this evening. The cold chair glued itself to my bare thighs sending rows of tiny needles down my leg. Creative Writing II. I assumed, well I’m an English teacher, surely I can handle this level. Yet, here I was being told that my writing was not ready.
Rapid thoughts flooded in. See, you aren’t talented. All this time you’ve been wasting on this piece. It’s not creative. You’ll never be good enough for others to enjoy or care. Your own family member said, “Nobody cares about your writing!” My lungs filled with insecurities drowning me. Just then a life boat passed by, one thought that contradicted all the doubt: you have something valuable here, keep working at it. I saw it, but let it pass by.
My love for writing began when I chose my first notebook in elementary school. It was mine and I chose to turn in to my book of thoughts. I wrote questions, thoughts, ideas, and letters in it. It wasn’t until my teen years, my first years in America when I started doubting my abilities. Suddenly my thoughts weren’t clear. They weren’t organized correctly according to the standards of writing. I received few above average grades in writing. It is not a craft that came easily, unlike to those around me. My best friend transferred into AP English our senior year and instantly turned into a writer. My brother came into this world as an articulate gifted writer whose reputation plagued my high school writing reputation.
So yes even at 34 when I was told that my writing was not ready, I believed it. All the old self-doubt soaked my insides. Who’s going to read your writing? This is not innovative. It’s not original. It’s not enough. The negative thoughts spread like veins of lightning across the sky.
The next class, I presented another 300 words to be judged. After all my classmates discussed the qualities of my writing, I prepared for her ultimate judgement.
“You need to read more good writing. What you are reading is not helping your writing right now,” she continued. Instantly I dove into the words of my childhood mentor who advised me to watch the right television shows to grow intellectually and the right music to evolve my ear. In spite of his advice, however, I continued watching Full House, Growing Pains, Who’s the Boss, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Golden Girls and The Cosby Show. In spite of his advice, I continued to listen to love songs with Delila and Jewel and every 90’s one-hit-wonder. Though I chose to watch these shows, I did it in shame, forever believing I wasn’t smart enough and would stay that way.
“I know you have other interests, but when none of those work out, you’ll be back here,” he said—Yet another authority figure determining my destiny. It was Wednesday; the day after I shared my decision to take a break from the classroom for a second time. Instantly I found myself defensive again; questioning it all. What if nothing materializes? What if I don’t finish the book? What if I fail yet again?
Then, I thought, yes, what if I fail again? What can I learn? I am a teacher, a role model. One who tries to influence her students to jump into mistakes without a life jacket, fearless, courageously knowing that mistakes are where the new learning goes. I repeat it millions of times in my classroom; yet when it comes to my life, I sink with fear of failure allowing it to drown me. What does it actually take to move towards my dream to finish a young adult novel in my lifetime?
“Ms. C. Are you taking the year off to finish your novel?” my 7th grader asked me during the Q&A section of my announcement.
“Well…” I hesitated not wanting to declare anything just in case I fail.
“Actually, yes this is my hope to write and maybe take a few classes, just stay focused.”
“Ms. C, if you write a book, I’ll read it! I’ll definitely buy it!”
“Well, we’ll see if anyone even considers publishing it first.”
“Of course they will! I can’t wait to read it.”
After my enthusiastic cheerleaders left for lunch, drop by drop it seeped in. If my students could have this much confidence in my writing, why couldn’t I? Why was I so afraid of dreaming big and more importantly believing big? Is it so hard to believe that I, too, could someday be a published author? If a student said to me what I said to myself about not getting published, I would reply with “How do you know?” Then, I’d add “believing in your self is the first step to success.”
How do I begin to believe in myself and abilities? Perhaps it’s less about believing and more about beginning. To you Ms. P who ripped my insides open for all to evaluate and inspect, I remind you that I am a writer whether you like it or not. I am a writer in spite of your belief about my abilities. I believe therefore I am. It feels too easy. However, there it is. I believe therefore I am.
So this July a year later on a brightly lit eve, I build my raft with affirmations of courage and float away from the kingdom of fears knowing it’s the right path to follow.
**This post was originally written as a mentor text for my students who were writing about their courage and fears. Our writing was inspired by the courage wall in Alexandria, VA.
Del Ray’s Courage Wall!