Updated: Jan 15
Yes, you. You with the eyes, and the reading. You sitting with your phone or computer or internal brain chip or transcription reader or braille terminal.
First of all, if no one has told you yet today, or even if they have—you're awesome, your hair looks great (or you have a shapely bald head), and like, good job being alive. It's a pain sometimes, and you're doin' it.
Second of all, I wrote this for you. For me, sure, because who doesn't like telling stories? But also for you. In a big, loving way.
I was told as a middle schooler not to write how I spoke, that I needed to be more formal if I wanted to be taken seriously in my writing. There began my quest, knighted by kingdoms not my own, attempt after well-meaning attempt to meet others' expectations. To figure out what each teacher wanted, to seek A's, approval, appreciation, audiences (and other things starting with "a" for the sake of alliteration), to seek ever-dwindling pen marks on my papers, to peer at ever-rising sums of points on brick-wall rubrics, delineating things like “Grammar,” “Organization,” “Neatness,” and “Creativity.” It always annoyed me a little that the box for neatness was the same size as the one for creativity.
That always felt like a contradiction to me. And as a literary love of mine, Concepción Arenal, once wrote—contradiction so often indicates error.
I’m grateful for all the things that have happened to make me who I am, but I wonder if it’s necessary for other people to experience the same type of writing education I did.
If we don’t cut writers down when they're saplings, we can let their talents grow much longer, undisturbed. A bit of pruning, while uncomfortable, ends up making life interesting and growthful. But the pruning will come unbidden. Teachers need not inflict it artificially with their so-called “constructive” criticism.
My goal as a writing teacher is to focus on the good. Focus on the potential. Focus on the strong. Focus on the powerful. Be the teacher who would have told miniature-me—your voice is brilliant, and I’ll give you three hundred reasons why.
My goal is to be the kind of teacher who points out the brilliance everywhere so my students can learn to see it more often, learn to become collectors of shiny, clever, lovely things.
This is a possible thing. FUN IS A POSSIBLE THING.
…all caps—this chick is aggressive.
YES, I AM AGGRESSIVE!
This is your one wild and precious life we are talking about! I feel strongly about it, even if you don't. If you do already—I'm in this with you! :D
Writing does not need to be an exercise in tolerating pain, at least not when it comes to receiving feedback. You don’t have to keep writing, feeling like a piece is doomed before it's drafted because that recalcitrant member of your Brain Parliament, who founded the Self Criticism Committee choose to convene a raucous, full-team meeting.
There’s the writer's block of not knowing what to say quite yet. That is an uncomfy, yet personally dealwithable block.
And then there’s the different, altogether shittier Writer's Block of “I know this is garbage, and I'm sort of garbage, so creativity, and life by extension, is slightly futile.” This is self-bludgeoning, love, and we do not need to keep it.
It will not feel safe at first (or honestly at second or at third), but try trusting the calm voice. You know, the one that promises that we can write better when we stop preemptively ruminating about our perceived inadequacies.
We need gentleness. We deserve gentleness. Not for any other reason than because we are, because we exist, because we choose to go on with this terrifying miracle of living and loving and not being dead.
Not being dead is a choice and a marvel and a gift and we are in the midst of it. We are opting, beautifully, to not be dead and I’m so proud of us. So grateful that we are still here together on this good, green, utterly exhausting earth.
I am so glad you are here. Whatever happens, or happened, I am glad you are here.
Life will be tough—it probably is already tough.
You deserve joy—abundant, soothing, cool-water-on-a-hot-day joy—simply because you exist.
With love, love, love, bothness, and encouragement to write,
I originally wrote this piece during my Gateless Teacher training. Gateless is a teaching methodology and an approach to creativity that uses the neuroscience of feedback to keep writers out of creativity-clogging fight/flight/flinch mode and in the flow of their strongest, most powerful, and most creative inner voice. If you're interested in joining a Gateless Salon (group sessions where you have time to write and an opportunity for thoughtful, positive feedback from a group), or working with me one on one as a supportive partner on a creative project, please let me know!