by Monica Ross
Some of us hold onto our truth for a long time before deciding to share it with others. When this happens it’s usually because that piece of our story carries some sort of shame about it. We hide so as to blend in with social standards. Because in some sense we fear our experience could push us further away from people when it’s the opposite that we seek, to somehow grow closer. There was a moment in the process of writing about my own experience with mental illness when I stopped to ask myself, Why start here, why write about this? I thought, this could potentially be my first published piece online and is this the way in which I want to introduce myself to the world?
And then I thought it really doesn’t matter what the inspiration or starting point. I felt as though what I had to say was important and that I wanted to reach a broader audience with it. I had developed a sort of a--it’s not where you start, but that you start philosophy.
So many people I had observed were practicing the art of authenticity in a multitude of ways. So, I took a gamble. I submitted my first article and what I learned is that the editors off these blogs like The Elephant Journal offer constructive criticism to help writers to become better at their craft. I took their commentary to heart, which often comes in the form of further questions to ponder. In the process of honing my piece I felt as though I was sharpening my skills as a writer as well.
To put something personal in the public domain for all to view some say is an act of bravery. There were moments though when I didn’t feel very brave. I can remember walking through the hallways at my 9-5 after the it came out and flinching somewhat at the sense of exposure. I knew that there were those who likely had read what I had written, and even though unlikely could question me with what it is was that I had to say.
I received a challenge from one reader, for example, a professional in the field. She commented through social media that the things that I spoke of were not evidence-based and were therefore somehow dismissible. I pointed out that everything I said had been fact-checked. What struck me is that I felt as though I was put in the place of having to defend my own personal experience. How does one go about telling people that the subjective must be objectively measured? I was baffled.
During the process of writing we as writers ask ourselves at times, What did I mean here by what I just said? And why say it in this way? This line of questioning serves as our internal measure of exactness. At the end of the day, we want to at the very least I think be able to say that what we have to say is true for us. We also know that every time we have to have the ability once the process is over to turn off all the mental chatter and accept that the piece now lives on somewhat independently of all that went into the creating of it.
I think also that writers have a need to tell our stories regardless of how or even if others chose to receive and acknowledge them, up to and including those in our inner circle. Maybe this is because for some of us what we have to say is somewhat controversial and perhaps if someone responds with silence it speaks more to issues of their own.
Just as there are those who say nothing, there are also those who read and give encouragement. With the encouragement, I always take a moment to soak in the validation. Any kind of positive feedback given much outweighs the negative. In some ways people are indicating the discovery of a like-minded audience. I hold on to those affirming comments--cherish them.
Part of being a writer I suppose is the drive to create out of a need to express. In the act of writing we gain much more of a respect for those who came before us, who like us, took the risk of putting themselves out there. We feel as though we are now in some sense part of a tribe having encountered the same or similar reactions from people as a part of being an artist.
Perhaps for some the creative process taps into deep-seated needs for acceptance, which in the end is more about self-acceptance than anything. What springs out of a sincere desire for expression and connection often succeeds in meeting the goal. It doesn’t matter to start either with the story first or the wants of the community of readers in mind. It is more about the willingness to be open and exposed. It teaches us something about ourselves and what it means to be human. Often it is the very thing that we think separates us from others that brings us closer together.