I’ve never thought of myself as a writer, really. A musician, an artist, a creator? Yes, but not much of a writer. During my senior year of high school I had a tutor for my college entrance essay assignments, and I remember confessing this frustration during an editing session. Nearly every other form of creative expression came easily for me. I could write a song, arrange a collage, perform a piano solo, lead in a musical, knit a scarf, or decorate a room with confidence, but every time I tried to write, I questioned myself and was consistently unhappy with the results of my hard work. She listened patiently, and then suggested that frustration about my challenges as a writer might actually be a cover for the fear that my ideas weren’t valuable. Writing doesn’t have to come naturally to matter, she assured me, and good things are worth working for. I didn’t really understand what she meant for several years, and I rarely thought of this conversation after it happened. (I can recount this now because, in a move that is admittedly ironic, I recorded her comments in my journal, which is my long-standing habit after all thought-provoking conversations.)
Though I got plenty of challenging writing assignments once I started college (thank you, Dr. Freeh, et al!), I spent most of those years surrounded by absolute geniuses in every variety of written communication – literature analysts, poets, journalists, scriptural exegetes, curriculum editors, and columnists of every sort. I’m sure my writing competence sharpened significantly during this time, but I never felt like I was even close to average abilities. My insecurity might make even more sense if you know that I was tight with these writers: I married a scholarship-winning journalist, one of my wedding bridesmaids has now published a book, and several other friends from that life are in graduate school or regularly writing things read by people they don’t know. Spending my life with people who were beyond my own mastery in this one area was a fertile breeding ground for that long-held fear of inadequacy, the nagging sense that I just didn’t have much to say. I didn’t realize this was exactly what my tutor meant yet by then, or even in the following years when I would escape boredom at work by maintaining frighteningly voluminous email correspondence.
I finally remembered the admonition about writing-insecurity hiding my idea-insecurity again at the end of our recent Michigan vacation when I was packing up a box of my belongings from my old bedroom in my parents’ house. It’s been four years since I “officially” moved out after graduating from college and marrying Aaron, and we own our home so I don’t have many things left there. This final load was a collection of my journals, now chronicling over half of my life. There were twenty-five notebooks that I brought home, with dates stretching back to 1998. I was twelve years old then.
After arriving back in Iowa, I organized this small library by date and added my other recent journals, which brings the total number to thirty-four. While setting things in order, I thumbed through a few books and recalled God’s kindness and my growth with laughter and cringing. I’m glad I don’t have to go back to middle school… or high school, for that matter!
And maybe it’s a sign of that same kindness and growth that in the middle of this project (besides wondering where on earth I am actually going to keep these) I couldn’t help but think: It’s probably time to stop pretending I don’t write. And I should stop being afraid of my ideas, too.
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
– e. e. cummings.