I’ve been contemplating joining a writer’s group for the past several weeks, but have been too shy to do so because I don’t want to share my work. I’m scared- I’ll admit it. I fear the face-to-face reactions of others in response to my writing- terrified they will find it talentless, dull, completely lacking in originality or, the worst possible comment: you don’t have what it takes to be an author. Why? Because I’ve always LOVED writing and if someone says they don’t like the way I twist words I WILL MELT TO THE FLOOR IN A LAVA FLOW OF DESPAIR AND DEFEAT.
And the verbal daggers of disapproval would be akin to white hot volcanic swords lacerating my heart.
Ok… I’m being a wee bit dramatic.
So, anyway, I pushed aside my histrionics and showed up for a writer’s studio class. There were ten of us, including the leader (whom I liked immediately). We were all women ranging in age from 18 to late 70’s. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of camaraderie, especially when one lady kicked me out of the chair I had chosen because she wanted it for her friend. Our group leader started out telling us to write for fifteen minutes about the person who taught us to drive. I began tapping away on my laptop in the strangely quiet room and the lady next to me side-eyed my fingers and I assumed I was being too loud. So I got out my notebook and a pen and began to write.
That’s when the voices in my head started in on me: OMG YOU HAD BETTER COMPOSE SOMETHING BRILLIANT WITH IMAGERY AND MEANING AND A THEME AND IT SHOULD EVOKE EMOTION AND… CRAP! YOU CAN’T USE YOUR THESAURUS AND YOU CAN’T TAKE YOUR TIME BECAUSE THIS IS BEING TIMED AND YOU TOLD EVERYONE DURING INTRODUCTIONS THAT YOU JUST WROTE YOUR FIRST BOOK SO IF THEY DON’T LIKE THIS THEN THEY’LL THINK YOUR BOOK MUST BE COMPLETE GARBAGE BECAUSE YOU CAN’T EVEN WRITE ABOUT THE PERSON WHO TAUGHT YOU HOW TO DRIVE IN A MEANINGFUL WAY. THEY’RE ALL GOING TO JUDGE YOU. YOU ARE NOT GOOD AT THINKING FAST, AND THIS PEN MOVES SO MUCH SLOWER THAN TYPING AND… WHAT ABOUT MAKING SURE YOU HAVE SUBTEXT AND NUANCE… WAIT… WHAT DOES NUANCE MEAN AGAIN? YOU. CAN’T. EVEN. REMEMBER. WHAT. NUANCE. MEANS. OMGGGGGGG….
So all of that was happening in my insecure, deranged mind because I’m not a normal person, but at least no one could hear my thoughts.
I finished my entry, amidst self-imposed angst, and as the ladies went around the room reading their writings, every single woman in the studio was kind and compassionate. Each person listened, really paid attention, to what the others had written. No one made a mean-spirited comment. No one rolled their eyes or laughed or made snide remarks. Only positive words emerged from those nine pairs of feminine lips. Don’t get me wrong, there IS a time and a place for critique, but for this novice group of writers, we were all looking for the same thing- to share our love of prose with other creative beings. And that is exactly what happened. Instead of hot swords lacerating my heart, the daggers of graciousness and solidarity melted it. Sharing my writing within a circle of non-threatening likeminded souls was incredibly liberating. And I am so very grateful.
Who Taught Me To Drive
My stepfather. He was very patient with me- kind, and not too overly freaked out with my primitive driving skills. I distinctly remember him doggedly schooling me on how to wrangle a stick shift when, at nineteen, I had bought an old, pink convertible Volkswagen Bug. The teaching process was laborious for him because the Bug’s clutch was tenacious, the stick shift jaggy, and I stalled over and over and over. Even though I was frustrated, my dad was not. He was very calm and encouraging, and he kept saying, “You’ll get it. Don’t worry. Just keep trying.”
Maybe the act of driving is much like the act of writing- the desire to get from one place to another, traveling roads that are sometimes smooth and sometimes rough. We all drive differently, just as each of us weave words uniquely, but the end destination is always the same: we end up exactly where we’re supposed to be. And perhaps the person who was sitting next to us teaching us the skill and mechanics of a car is the same person who roots for us today, in other areas and realms of our lives.
In my case, my father not only taught me how to drive, but he taught me how to not give up when the clutch of life and the stick shift of pain grind their gears and stall my perseverance. As I tentatively wrote my first novel, I thought of my dad, now in heaven, patiently encouraging me now just as he did all those years ago in that little pink Volkswagen. I believe he’s still next to me, and when I’m frustrated and scared that I’m not good enough to be an author, I can hear him whispering in my ear, “You’ll get it. Don’t worry. Just keep trying.”