For the last three months I’ve had the honor and the pleasure of serving as Apache Junction Library’s Writer in Residence. It was a humbling experience because I had to follow Greg McNamee, whose writing I’ve admired for more than two decades and whose friendship I’ve valued for a slightly shorter time.
What a treat meeting so many talented writers! I look forward to reading your finished poems, stories, and books. Thanks, too, to all those who took part in the Open Mic reading. I know from personal experience that It takes some courage to stand up and read your work before an audience – both in person and virtually over Zoom! Putting yourself “out there” can be emotionally risky, but the benefits are worth it.
The same is true for writing (especially for publication): It’s risky, if we do it right. That’s because all good writing is, in a sense, autobiographical, whether or not we consciously place ourselves in the text. When we write about the outer world we reveal our inner world. Our values, our biases, what we deem important, and even what we choose to ignore – all of these are on display to the careful reader. We open ourselves to the critical judgement of others, which is a feature of writing (not a bug) in at least a couple of ways. First, there’s the strength that comes from making ourselves vulnerable, and the joy in finding that we can survive and even thrive by doing so. Does criticism sting? Sometimes, sure it does. But we can go on.
An even more important benefit of criticism is the opportunity to examine our beliefs. I sometimes find I agree with a criticism. When that happens, I change. Other times, I realize the reader’s objection is either a simple difference of opinion or a reminder that they, too, have inner demons and flaws, and I don’t have to change a thing.
If you really want to write, I hope you continue putting down one word after another, through self-doubt, lethargy, distractions, criticisms, and the thousand other excuses for not writing. Remember to walk away from the computer or typewriter when your body screams, “No more!” Go for a hike, play or listen to music. Help out a friend. Enjoy yourself.
And then go back and write some more.