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Monday, August 31, 2015

The hardest part of writing and how I've turned it into my strength

The hardest part of writing happens pretty much every time I face a blank page. Sorry to say, it doesn't get easier, at least in my care, because the biggest hurdle I face in my writing is knowing that what I write will never be exactly what someone else would have written on the same topic. The interview questions I ask, whether they're about period sex or raising a transgender child, will never be exactly the same as someone else's questions (although I have interviewed people who've been asked a variation of almost identical questions their answers inevitably start to sound the same, and that is something I try to steer clear of these days and interview people who are not oversaturated by press).

My point, though, is, that sometimes the fear and doubt embedded in that truth leaves me staring at my screen, stricken, utterly sure that, since what I will ask or write or reveal is different from what someone else would, it's lesser than. That is a battle I will probably always face, because even when I think I have a great idea, even when I'm audacious enough to pitch it to one of the most famous newspapers in the world, I still get nervous. I still wonder, what the hell am I doing? I'm wondering that right now, in fact. Is admitting that I am often terrified of getting past word one going to diminish my the perceived reputation of the writing classes I'm teaching?

What I've come to realize is that the truth here is inescapable. I will never be another person, so I will never be able to write like someone else would. I can learn the most I can about my craft, I can study publications zealously to get a sense of what they want. I can learn from failed pitches and study the ones that succeeded to figure out what works. I can constantly be on the lookout for aspects of my life, or other people's lives, or pop culture, that might warrant an exploration on the page.

These days, a vast amount of what I do is research, brainstorming, figuring out what topics people will want to read about. Sometimes, readers surprise me. My profile of what it's like to work at Philadelphia porn company HotMovies.com is currently the most-read story on Philadelphia City Paper's website. I don't get paid more for that, but it makes me feel good that I chose well and did justice to the topic given my relatively small word count.

One of my keys to facing this could-be-debilitating fear is to simply charge right into it. To say, essentially, okay, I can only write as "me," so what about me is unique? That too is audacious; it runs counter to everything I've absorbed about being meek and quiet and patient to do the exact opposite, to look around and say, how ridiculous and crazy and weird is my life, and how can I laugh at and learn from and exploit that? I've accepted that fact that people might look at me like I'm crazy when I admit that I have over 1,000 Google Alerts, and that's okay. So what?

The truth is, life is crazy, in big and small ways. So that's where I go. Not that every story I write is "crazy," hopefully, but that they all stem from some interest of mine (or in some cases, my editor's). They all are part of me and they are never going to emerge the same way they would if someone else covered them. So while I write about sex and dating, I've also made babies and body image and weight and beauty and books (sometimes beauty and books) and hoarding my beats. I've followed my "weird" passions and quirks and done my best to encourage others to do so. I've trusted myself to admit hard truths because I believe anyone that cares about me as a person will know that honesty is not a weapon or a curse, but a valued skill. I've embraced the fact that while other people may relate or have similar stories to share, they will never write a short story or essay or conduct an interview exactly how I have. That's simply the truth, and I can lament it or I can make it work for me.

As such, I've let myself acknowledge that sometimes other people will say or write what I wanted to express better than I could have, and that's okay too. Accepting that I can try my best, pursue my passionate quirks, and still sometimes fall short of the mark, and here I mean my own standard for my work, is part of getting better at it. I've been sitting on some ideas, some for months, telling myself I should "wait" because they aren't fully cooked yet, that I need more time to ruminate. So, like the neurotic person I am, almost every day I sit down to make one of my many to do lists, and wind up writing those ideas down. "Pitch _____." The ideas gnaw at me, distracting me from whatever the task at hand is, and the longer I ignore them, the more they haunt me. Instead of simply taking the time to pitch them and see what kind of response I get, I've too often let them stay in my head because I let that fear win. I have to pretty much tell myself that, sometimes out loud, to get past all those voice telling me things like, no, don't try to interview that person, because you don't know everything that's ever happened in their field, and you'll sound stupid. So, I'm posting this today partly for me, and partly for anyone reading this who needs a little encouragement. Write, pitch, blog, or whatever your preferred artistic medium is. Go for it, because write will never be exactly what someone else would have written. It will be yours, and it will be special, because you are.

It's a busy time right now but when I've had a few minutes, like I did this weekend to sit outdoors in Princeton, I'm reading Rising Strong by Brené Brown, a book about failure (there's even a chapter titled "Composting Failure"), because I've faced my share of it. It's one of those books that, for me, the mere reading of it helps give me confidence, helps remind me that I'm not my worst sentence, my biggest mistake, my greatest failure, although those are part of me too. I'm those along with all the positive things I'm proud of, and everything in between. I'm myself, which is not always who I like or love or want to be, but I'm who I've got. This is a section I highlighted (yes, one of the joys of buying books is you can write in them; it's not something I do that often, but sometimes I feel a book just needs that added emphasis, if only to sear the concepts into my mind), that I thought you might appreciate.

risingstrong

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