I wonder why I write…

Sometimes, I’ve noticed a niggling thought lurking in my mind: “I’m not good enough.”

Mostly, in the last few years at least, I haven’t given in to the thought. Instead, I have taken it out into the open, let it have its say and then let it go. Logically, I knew it wasn’t true. Logically, I knew I was as good as anyone else.

Logically, I don’t even believe in “good” and “bad” people, because I can see that what most of us call “bad” is really just reacting to pain. The more emotional pain people feel, the more likely they are do something that hurts someone else. So I knew the belief wasn’t really true.

Yet something remained, a dull hum in the background. “You’re not good enough.”

It showed up most often when I sat down to write, whispering that because I was not an enlightened being or an expert at anything, what I wrote wouldn’t be of benefit to the world. I needed to wait, not send out words I might later regret, or that – worse still – might cause someone else harm.

This last fear was one that until last week I hadn’t even noticed for what it was. That I had to be careful because something I wrote could harm someone else didn’t seem like a belief, it just seemed true. Even when part of me yearned for my writing to receive recognition, another part of me felt uneasy. People might take to heart what I said, and that might in some mysterious way harm them.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who sometimes worries about “saying the wrong thing.” I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who sometimes felt the sharpness of a parent’s anger when, as a child, she said something to another adult that her parents felt embarrassed about. And I don’t suppose I’m the only person who, as a teenager, felt scared to speak to people and ashamed of having nothing to say.

Yet, it’s only fairly recently that I made the connection between these things, only recently that I realised a child chastised for saying the wrong thing could grow into a teenager scared to speak and into an adult who both desired and feared to write. Until then, all these things – the words that tumbled out of my mouth when they shouldn’t, the words that didn’t squeak out when they should, the blank mind staring a computer screen – all seemed to be something wrong with me, something that proved I wasn’t good enough.

For a long time, writing was my escape – a way to speak when I couldn’t, a way to make sense of life when it didn’t make sense. I wrote stories that only a few close friends read, and poems and journals that nobody did. (And I use the term “poem” loosely here, since I’m not sure you could call what I wrote poems!) Nobody was ever influenced by anything I wrote, since nobody read it.

Okay, not quite nobody. Every now and then, I’d show someone a story and they’d say it should be published – God alone knows why, since those stories were nowhere near publishable. Every now and then, I’d send something I’d written to a magazine, and was disappointed but not surprised when I heard nothing back.

Then, while training to be a teacher, although everyone else grumbled about the essays, they were what I enjoyed the most. I joined a writing class, and learned the craft. I discovered that my characters needed to do something, not just amble through life aimlessly, pining for lost loves or contemplating a glass of beer, all alone in a bar. (Actually, I rediscovered that, because in the stories I wrote when I was ten the characters barely stood still, they were so busy fighting spies and kidnappers.)

There’s something about writing that says, “I matter. My words and opinions matter.” Even when we write fiction, as I mostly did for years, we still present a perspective to the world, we use language in a way that stirs emotions and that encourages people to see our characters the way we want them too. Of course, not everyone agrees with us, and one person’s page-turner is another person’s turn-away.

When we speak, what we say does have an effect, but unless we create videos or other recordings, that effect is small in scale. I might remember my father telling me I shouldn’t have said what I did to an old lady; I might remember the guy in the college canteen who scowled at me and said I had no need to be so jumpy, he didn’t bite. But their words had no direct effect on anyone else.

When we write and share our writing with other people, the potential influence is much wider. There lay the crux of my dilemma, the reason why I sometimes wondered about my writing – if what I wrote might influence someone else, then I needed to choose words carefully, especially when I wrote non-fiction. For years my aim, whether writing fiction or non-fiction, has been to educate as much as to entertain. I’ve written short stories about domestic violence and about the after effects of miscarriage. My aim has also been, and still is, to show a kinder way to live. I’ve written a novel about how patterns of behaviour pass down through family generations and about how these patterns can be interrupted and lives transformed. I’m currently working on books, both fiction and non-fiction that address issues with compassion. As I grow in awareness, my hope is always to help others to do the same.

Sometimes from comments people leave on this blog, or reviews of my fiction, it seemed I succeeded. Yet, still the doubt remained: “I’m not good enough.” While journaling a few days ago, I realised that this is quite an arrogant thing to think. Who am I really, to say what is good enough? What if how I am right now is part of a bigger picture that I can’t see, is perfect for the world’s healing? What if I am in the exact right place for my part in that?

As I was journaling, an image of a beach a few miles from my childhood home came into my mind. To reach it, we used to walk for a few miles through hills, and there were several variations on the route. The journey to get to the beach was as enjoyable as reaching it. Each time, as I walked there, I saw the beach and the hills surrounding it in my mind’s eye. However, even if we had a rough idea of the route we’d take, we didn’t plan every detail. One path might be sodden so we take a detour, or we might just feel like going higher up than usual. When we were children, my sisters and I often walked high in the hills whereas my parents would walk a lower route. We could see them below us and we were all going in the same direction!

I keep on writing because it helps me make sense of the world and of my self. As I write, the image I see in my mind’s eye is a world filled with compassion and love, a world where the colour of skin doesn’t matter, where everyone has enough food and the planet is clean and healthy. Just like the journey to the beach, there are many ways to get there and I don’t need to know every detail of the route to keep going. I don’t need to wait till I reach the beach to feel good enough: I can enjoy the view along the way.

 

Comments

  1. Yvonne, I think you’re onto something with this that’s bigger than this. I’m not sure how to say it but it’s like you’ve done such an amazing job with your fiction and your other writing and now you’re talking about your writing process, which is so helpful for those of us who really want to write fiction or something we’re not used to writing, if that makes sense. When you say that “when we write and share our writing with other people, the potential influence is much wider. There lay the crux of my dilemma, the reason why I sometimes wondered about my writing – if what I wrote might influence someone else, then I needed to choose words carefully, especially when I wrote non-fiction” I can relate to that. It’s like there’s this need to share but also to not share… or something like that. I’m so glad I read this tonight and I’ll be thinking about it for a while for sure.

    1. Author

      Yes, Kristi, I agree with what you say about the need to share but not to share. We have these dual impulses in other things too of course, but with writing it’s such a big thing, possibly all the more so because writing is such a private activity, yet it’s then on public display. (Unlike a singer or comedian or actor whose activity also takes place in public.)

      And thanks for your kind words about my fiction. I truly appreciate it!

  2. I like the idea that in a sense writing is a social responsibility, Yvonne. Like you, I like to use my writing to highlight social causes. But beyond that, it is really to understand myself better and perhaps, like you say,make sense of the world too.

    1. Author

      Thanks Corinne, social responsibility is a succinct phrase for what I was describing! I hadn’t quite found the words. There can be a fine line between highlighting causes and judging others and I definitely don’t want to cross that line, which is part of what sometimes creates doubt for me. But I actually, now I think of it, as long as we write with compassion, that’s going to come across.
      And yes, to understand myself better is another reason I write too!

    1. Author

      Yep, that’s definitely why I do journal writing Paul! I have no doubts about that either; it’s the public writing that has sometimes felt more difficult.

  3. Yvonne, your words, as always are stunningly true for me. I don’t always comment because the truth is I sometimes don’t quite know what I have to say after reading you. It’ s a good thing, believe me! Your writing always leaves me thinking “yes, that’s so true” or “she’s right and it’s really about so much more” – like Kristi said above. Your words – and you – are more than good enough.
    I also like the ideas here about what we put out there to be read and what we write that we keep for ourselves. I’ve seen that come up once or twice in the discussions on these posts this week and I think there’s probably reasons why writers do both.
    I’m going to come back to this post again, I know. There is much more here for me to ponder. I think this is the best thing I’ve read today and I’m happy to have it be the last. xo

    1. Author

      Lisa, I’m stunned by your comment! Thank you so much for your lovely words. I’m so glad to know what I write resonates with you – and to read that you think my words (and I) are more than good enough! Thanks.

      It is interesting that similar themes are coming up in the posts. It probably points to how universal these are.

  4. Yvonne, this is lovely. All you write is rooted in compassion. Writers really all should think when writing because if anyone reads, we owe it to them and ourselves to speak responsibly through our words.
    I like what you said about the route to get through the hills to the coast. So true that this can be associated with most things in life. There are so many ways to get to the same place.
    I can relate in what you say in that I battle with if I am sounding, thinking of myself as egotistical or narcissistic.

    1. Author

      Thanks Kerry! First, I will say I have never read anything of yours that sounded egotistical or narcissistic! It’s clear you do also think about what you write. Yet, I can also of course understand why you’d feel that doubt since I do too!

      I like what you say about owing it to others and ourselves to speak responsibly. That’s similar to what Corrine says about social responsibility. We are not separate from the human race or from the world, and using our worlds can help heal.

  5. I try to stay away from “good enough” and acknowledge that there is always room to improve myself. I approach every day with – how can I do better?

    1. Author

      That’s an interesting strategy Liv, and one I think I’d find stressful. I once worked as a counsellor on a helpline and that was the way every debrief went. It left me feeling that what I did was never quite enough, and I found it harder to fully connect with the callers if I was trying to “get it right.” I guess this shows that we need to find what works best for ourselves as individuals. I do best when I can just focus on what I’m doing and not worry about whether it’s good enough, improving or whatever.

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