I am standing in my kitchen and the red cabinets seem too close. Everything feels too close. Too immediate. It crowds into my chest and presses down and out . . . I could panic now if I didn’t breathe.
If I didn’t write. If I didn’t push silence like a gag into those voices that scamper and frolic at the edges of my eyes.
But I know what to do here. I know what to do and yet I don’t go there immediately. Instead, I take shallow breathes and cringe at the deadline.
Tomorrow, the editor wants it tomorrow.
I hear it, that hollow of a voice that says I can’t do this. “You don’t know what you are doing. You have nothing to say.”
YOU ARE A FRAUD.
But I know what to do. . . and now, finally, I do it – the deadline too much for me to skip over. Like an arm of red rover clotheslining me until I fall
to the page. I open that snow-white cleanness, and I remember the silence at the end of “The Dead.” And I begin. Some letters typed through fingers made faster by the typing class I loathed.
More words. A hard return. Paragraphs.
And the cabinets climb back up the walls. And the orange balloon of pressure eases. The voice goes silence back down the cavern.
The only way is to write.
Here are three things I recommend when those voices start to whisper and shout, when the panic about writing comes over you. I’ve gleaned this wisdom from those before me and from my experience.
1. Recognize the voices for what they are – fear. If you call them out, if you recognize them as lies, not truth, you can face them. My friend Jennifer Luitwieler tells them to get into a corner. I’m ruder . . . I tell them to “shut the f**k up.” I was never allowed to say “shut up” as a kid, and adding in that little swear makes me feel rebellious and powerful – two things I need to get me writing.
2. Stop thinking and start doing. Many years ago, I wrote a post about loneliness and writing, where I realized that the hardest thing about writing is not writing but the avoiding the writing, the thinking about it, the mulling the idea of the words over and over. So I have learned to get to the page as quickly as I can and just write it out. There, my mind slows. My anxiety eases. There, I get the work done.
3. Realize that all artists feel this way. Every single artist I’ve ever known gets this anxiety. Every single artist I know comes up with elaborate reasons to listen to these voices – writer’s block, low self-esteem, fatigue. And every single artist I know who is successful – i.e. they continue to produce work – finds a way to quiet these voices and keep going anyway. It’s your choice if you listen to these voices, if you let them quell your power, but I assure you that your voices are no more powerful than anyone else’s and you are more powerful than you know.
So write, my friends. Call out the fear. Get to the page. Keep going. Because we need what you have to say from the truest, most honest place in you. We really do.
What do you do to quiet these voices?
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