Writing: The Key to Redefining Self
The year I participated in Duke’s Summer Camp for Young Writers I learned a few interesting lessons about redefining yourself and first impressions.
First of all, you might be surprised how many people think of the movie “Deliverance” when they hear you grew up in Arkansas. Some of them might even be surprised to find that you actually wear shoes on a regular basis. It took me the entire week of convincing my camp cohorts that I had never seen that movie (much less ever heard of dueling banjos) and didn’t have much “back woods” exposure living in the city!
It was also the first time I realized that some teenage boys can be very sensitive, profound, and inspired. I had never witnessed this side of my hometown classmates before. The rowdy crowd of boys I met that first day completely surprised me after a week of us sharing our most vulnerable creative ideas with each other. This experience was key to redefining our own sense of self and that of one another.
But the most memorable lesson was that the opening line of whatever you are writing should make your reader want to dive head first into the second sentence, and then the third, capturing their attention through the entire first paragraph, etc. etc.
This last lesson had a huge impression on me, serving as my introduction to the powerful and all-too-common acquaintances of most writers: anxiety and self-doubt.
All these years later, it has stayed with me as I struggle to get my blog up and going (which has been a LOOOONG time in the making). A wise friend encouraged me to just START writing. She said “it sounds like you’ve been trying to write this first blog post for the past 20 years!” and truthfully, she couldn’t have been more spot-on. I’ve come up with a million excuses to justify the blank page.
- It isn’t a good season in my life to devote to this the way I want to.
- I wouldn’t know where to begin. I don’t have the tools to start this process.
- Do I really want to bring my vulnerabilities to light? To offer this piece of my heart to anyone out there?
- Why do I want to write a blog in the first place? How do I reach my “audience” in a compelling way that creates community and builds relationships?
I’ve spent the last month writing so many half-drafts of this post and feeling completely stuck. The whole process has been a fusion of feelings for me: exciting, intimidating, frustrating, inspiring, overwhelming…
I’ve always had a love affair with adjectives – I could go on this tangent for days but I’ll spare you. Finding the perfect words to express myself is simply another way that I have been delaying this process.
I am certain that I am certifiably a procrastinating perfectionist. Is that really a thing? Is there an Enneagram for that? I bet some further Google “research” would lead me right in to prolonging my task at hand.
But this year I’ve decided that I am done with excuses.
WHY NOW you ask?
That’s an excellent question. It basically came down to an epiphany. I realized that I didn’t LOSE the art of creative expression… I’m simply out of practice. I have allowed my BIG feelings of inadequacy and my fear of failing to shut me down. My inner critic has worked wonders convincing me that others depend on my prioritization of their needs over my own. These things have completely smothered the creative side of myself.
In hopes of finding some inspiration (and reminding myself that I’ve been WRITING since I first learned how) I poured through boxes of my creative writing history. My thought was that by revisiting more inspired moments of my life, I might rekindle my abilities. Maybe even find the motivation to “get back on the horse” so to speak!
As far back as I can remember, I have always kept a diary or journal. The first was from when I was still-learning-how-to-write-the-alphabet-legibly little, around 7 years old. Those entries are barely readable and sound particularly cryptic, shining insight into the abstract mind of a child.
- “Father Day. Dad got a weard picter of a pulle (poodle) with a Mohalk.”
- “Nanny was here. We went fishing for the first time.”
- “I came home from my grandparent’s house. Bear died. I love Bear. She was my dog. Mom and Dad stopped living together. It was sad.”
- “We sleped in the truck noweare in Kanses.”
These mini-glimpses into the day-to-day existence of my former self at that age are priceless for me. I don’t have clear memories of any of those events (though I strangely have a vivid image of that picture of the dog with a Mohawk!). It seems that even from that primary time in my life I used writing as an outlet.
The journaling continued.
In middle school the tone shifted with my budding puberty – entries thick with preoccupied romanticizing of the boys I was crushing on and scornful of the girls that bullied me. In high school my brooding alter ego wrote poems about internal conflict and despair. Expressions of my dismal and disgruntled teenage angst were profound and abundant.
By college I was desperate to redefine my mindset and discover my “true” self. My journaling became a persistent pep talk of sorts.
“I need to get out of this funk.”
“There is so much to be thankful for in my life.”
These were common themes that continued well into my post-college existence as I became more introspective. Every time I found my way into some sort of existential crisis, new relationship, or major life challenge, I turned to my writing to help process the experience.
Hindsight is 20/20 and as it turns out, I’ve been using writing as a creative outlet and form of self-care long before I even knew what those things were or that I needed them.
It may sound weird to think of creative writing (or starting a blog) as a form of self-care but I really believe that it is. For me, there is a mental release in the expression of emotions shared, in the flow of putting pen to paper, and the potential connection you create with others when you find commonalities within your stories of life.
Recently I heard an incredible analogy (and I loooooove a good analogy) by Rachel Hollis in her “Made for More” documentary. She asks you to imagine a tall glass vase being continuously filled by nourishing water. Then she discusses how women tend to feel compelled to tip our vase over AS it fills. The desire to share that nourishment with other important people in our lives inevitably never allows our own vase to completely fill up.
The next part is a challenge she asks you to consider. What happens if we actually allow our vase to fill up to the very top as the water continues to pour in?
Can you visualize that?
The water just keeps flowing… over the top, down the sides of the vase, to everything around it… and to all of those we usually prioritize over ourselves. THIS, my friends, is a valuable depiction of the importance of self-care. I’ve always believed the adage – “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Consciously allowing your own cup to fill means that goodness will overflow to everyone around you!
I believe that the process of writing is key for reviving and redefining my sense of self today.
I’ve come to appreciate that the time is NOW and that the first step is just to show up for myself.
I hope you will join me on this journey. I promise to keep showing up.
I used to teach that lesson to my fifth grade writing students. I had them each grab a stack of novels and copy the first sentence of each onto a strip of paper, and we went through each one and examined their power. Such an important lesson, and so relevant to beginning a blog.
I also love the idea of writing as self care; it totally is.
Great job, Eliza! Can’t read to see what’s next 😉
Thank you Suzette! I wouldn’t be surprised if that lesson made a lasting impression on many of them too! What a great idea!
Congratulations on your new blog Eliza! I’m so excited for you, and so happy that you finally got up enough courage to start! It’s not easy being vulnerable in today’s world. I really admire what you are doing, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead! 🙂
Thank you so much Tricia!! You have been a big inspiration to me since we met. You have shown me what it looks like to follow your dreams with actionable steps and create something awesome! Your support and enthusiasm truly means a lot.
“Procrastinating Perfectionist” is definitely a thing. I count myself among them, but there’s never been such a perfect label! Congratulations on you blog! I can’t wait to read what next! 😘
P.S. I remember when Bear died. 😢
Thank you so much Ginger!! I was really lucky to have you as a friend during those young years – I have a ton of memories of us together (we should reminisce some time!). Glad we have solidarity on the procrastinating perfectionist tendencies HA!
You have always been a great writer & amazing poet & illustrator. I’m excited for you and very impressed by how far you’ve come since those first little journals you kept -:) and yes writing & reading have always been the place you went even as a small child to self-nurture. …. Teaching you the art of using your imagination to entertain yourself evolved into a secret garden so to speak. At times I felt a little guilty about not allowing you to “watch TV” as the babysitter, but I tried really hard to provide you with things to draw & write with, and your first reel to reel portable tape player. You spent hours in our backyard tree reading, and I had Michael Jukes build a surprise deck in “your favorite” maple tree for your birthday. That deck evolved into a 2 story tree house. I have to thank many of my friends who were artists who created the magic of the backyard space that you & I went to as our special place… you in your space and me in my gardens. I loved the fact that you wanted to learn the names of all the plants & can walk thru to this day & identify those same plants, whether at Historic Kenmore or the Woodford house both “my gardens”. Gardens are like journals, they are places to go that nurture the deepest parts of our past. You have always been my “Secret Garden” watching you imagine, invent the foundations of who you are today, and manifest a place to self nurture.
I will always be your best critic and I write without bias, that you are so much more than I ever imagined deserving as your mama!
Mama – you have always been my greatest supporter and teacher. There are not enough words in existence to describe how much you mean to me. ily.
Remarkable! Engaging! This effort and your obvious communication skills are phenomenal! Work it! Proud to know you! 🧚🏻♂️💃👊🏻👏🏻
Wow thank you Carlette!! That means so much to me! Thanks for the support!!
So I just finished your latest post….
I keep reading & rereading & with a crooked grin I have an epiphany
You are the manifestation of me the things I love..
I love the way your stories speak to me remembering, re-evaluating inspiring the embers w/in life & its cobwebs
Without consciousness yet another dimension the art of communication
reconnecting in a disconnected world llym
Mama, it means so much to know you feel this connection – I am who I am from so much of your influence and certainly your unconditional love. Thank you for being my biggest supporter and for always reaching deep into my heart to encourage me. ily.