When I little, my brothers and I would collect seeds. We would compile any seeds we could and package them for resale. Now I don’t mean to make this sound like a legit business. For a frame of reference, it was less lucrative than your average lemonade stand. And yet, when summertime rolled around, there we were, looking for seeds in our backyard.
Our customers were the usual suspects; family members, assorted neighbors, and family friends. They were so kind to us, because what we sold them was, for all intents and purposes, useless. They were merely doing us a favor.
It’s really easy for us to feel that way about our own art as well. Like we are charlatans peddling a useless product. That’s how I can often feel about my writing. For example, nearly a year and a half ago I wrote a book.
I remember I hesitated to call it that at first. I reasoned, “Well it’s just independently published.” Or “I’m a nobody who just wrote down his thoughts. There’s nothing special about it.” Saying I was a writer felt like calling a kid with a hose a fireman. Almost like it’s patronizing or at the worst like I was being falsely prideful. I was embarrassed when I heard that people actually paid for it, and then I was scared when I heard that they read it.
This was a project I had worked on from early 2015 to the middle 2018. This book saw me through college. It lived with me through a death in the family. It sat beside me in pain and heartbreak. And it embraced celebration as I graduated and accepted my first job. I put my life into that collection of prose poetry. And being that honest, even if it was parabolic at times, was unsettling. And what was more unsettling than having people read my honest thoughts, was the fear that people would then think my honest thoughts were terrible. Quite the pickle.
Recently my friend, Trevor and I were on the phone catching up on the previous month. And he asked me a strange question, “Hey, what’s your favorite poem from your book?” I responded somewhat stunned, “My what?” He reminded me, “Your book. I just was reading through it. What was your favorite poem that you wrote for it?” I hadn’t given a thought to that project in about six months, if not longer. And so I rummaged through my bookshelf and I found a copy. I started to flip through the pages while still on the phone. I read a few portions and explained their significance to me, and he told me that he liked it. It was a short interaction compared to the rest of the conversation, and yet it was so important to me.
It helped me to see the legitimacy of the work I had done. It gave me the ability to feel like I had accomplished something.
Steven Pressfield says in his book, The War of Art, “If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), ‘Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?’ chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
There’s a beautiful humility needed to write; to share your thoughts. Because you chance being wrong, exposing yourself to folly. Although in the same vein, this realization gave me great strength.
My fear and hesitance led me to accept that I was in fact an writer. I might not be paid to write. Nor do I have a book deal with a publisher. But I write, and thus I am a writer. I wasn’t just some imposter acting as if he had done something. I had actually done it. So it’s been over a year now, and I actually want to draw attention to what I’ve written. Not because it’s perfect or mind bending. But because it’s mine. There is sense of ownership that I finally feel able to embrace in my work.
You may think, “With all of this inner turmoil, why write the book in the first place?” That’s a very valid question. I think the same question could be asked of the artist who paints, and yet remains insecure of their work. Or the photographer who never quite believes their praise, and yet with quivering hand, still takes another photograph. I write because I have a story inside of me. I have a narrative of my humanity and I can’t help but share it. Even when telling you scares me, because I fear you might hate the chapter I read you. I write because I believe that there is insight from my successes and wisdom in my failures.
I heard once that what you write doesn’t need to be flawless, it just needs to be honest. Writing is so much less about transcendence and so much more about authenticity. Sharing a life wrapped up in narrative and poetry. Rhythmically calling us to live another day. Imploring us to love generously. Begging us to breathe fully, letting the beauty fill our lungs.
Will I one day become a New York Times Bestseller? Maybe. I know I’m not one yet, but maybe one day I might be. For now, I will just write little by little, telling honest stories. They might not be perfect, but they’re mine.