Feel the Fear and Write It Anyway
I haven't done a blog post in a while.
Between the pandemic, my job as an editor at Two Sylvias Press, my next book, and just a world of distractedness, I've been missing from this world.
But I wanted to talk about risk in our work, in our poems and stories, in what we write.
This week I'm finishing up the FINAL edits on my book, Dialogues with Rising Tides. That's final like--once I send in any final corrections or edits, I will not see the book again until it's published. That final. Like, "Oh I see I forgot to thank my mother and I've misspelled the word 'cemetery' thirteen times" final. Done. No more changes. We're through here.
That is scary enough, though as a human, I've learned I'm okay with an occasional typo.
(Fun fact: if you look on the spine of my book, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, you will see that the second "i" is missing from "Dickinson"--I kid you not. We thought it got corrected, but obviously, that was missed before the printing.) But here's the thing I learned from that--mistakes happen and in the end, don't matter too much. I've learned, they actually aren't that big of a deal, I mean, that book ended up a winning Foreword Indies Book of the Year in Poetry and was a Finalist for the Washington Book Award, all while having a big mistake on the cover.
But over the last two years, as I've been getting ready for this book to come out, I have woken up in the middle of the night anxious about my poem--not the craft of them, that I have worked on endlessly, but that some deal with some very personal topics. As I received my final edits this week, I found myself waking up at 3 am with a "what have I done?" feeling. Along with the gratitude and thankfulness of this book, I've been hit with the classic--Omg, people are actually going to read this!
Talking with other women poets, I realize many have also had this fear or concern as their books and poems come out into the world. It comes down to risk, we need to write what scares us.
I took a class with Brenda Hillman and after we shared a poem, she would ask us, "What did you risk?" Some people would say, "I'm writing in a new form" or "I risked sentimentality" but some would say, "I'm writing about something that makes me feel shameful" or "I'm writing about a topic I have been afraid to share." Every time we risk or write about the things we are afraid to or think we shouldn't, we open doors for other poets to do the same thing.
In a world of filters and photoshop, it can be hard to be real and vulnerable. Sometimes we want to put on a lot of concealer and cover what we consider are our flaws. I want to consider that word "flaw"--maybe what we consider our "flaws" are us just being human. Maybe when we are able to say "this happened to me" or "this was very hard to write about and equally hard to publish," we are finding ways for others to feel less alone in the world.
Ultimately, we cannot control how people respond to our writing. We open ourselves up, we try our best, and we hope it's well-received. And while we never will know how anything will be received, what we can know that as poets, writers, and artists--every time we stretch ourselves in work, every time we write, we are opening up doors for others to enter.
By not skimming the surface, but going deeper, you may find yourself doing your best work. We should be trying things in our work that make us feel uncomfortable--in voice, in form, in style, in content, in __________ (fill in the blank)...there are so many ways to write what scares us. To risk something in our work.
So this post is just as much for you as it is for me--a reminder that we are not alone in the anxiety that sometimes comes with publishing a book and as William Faulkner said, "You cannot swim for new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” And coincidently, my cover is of life ring so I like to think that while we may feel we are going under, reach out a little bit to see there is security around you--maybe in the form of friends or supportive writers, maybe in knowing that in the end, we have to write the poems we have to write. And we can do that.