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Monday, July 30, 2012

A Confession of Sorts

This is from my journal the other day.  I was trying to come to terms with myself--and why I am so nervous about going to SCBWI for the first time--and why I am struggling and juggling within the confines of my own writing.  I am only sharing it so that if you recognize your own self as a writer within my words, know that there is hope.  Every writer I know has moments of doubt.  Actually, they are lucky if they are confined only to moments.

There is a fear before I sit down and write, a very real fear, and it hits every single time.  The fear is that I won’t do it right.  That I will mess up the idea or that I had misjudged the idea and that it wasn’t even a good idea to begin with. 

I don’t know why I fear being wrong so much.  It’s not like I am right on many things in life most of the time.  I am wrong A LOT. But in some instances, being wrong (about writing and such) makes me feel stupid.  I hate feeling stupid.

I should embrace feeling stupid.  I’d probably be a heck of a lot happier if I just realized that sometimes I AM the idiot I try so hard not to be.  But then there is that awful pride….

 A writing instructor (one of the few brave times I went to learn about writing, more on that later) told me that he didn’t quite get me.  How could such deep insecurity co-exist with such swaggering bravado?  (Okay, he didn’t say swaggering…I just added it because I do swagger in my own dorky way.)  I don’t remember what I said.  I like to think that I wrote a journal entry addressed to this instructor letting him know that, yes, actually, you DO get me.  This is what I live with all the time.  The swagger hides the chicken. 

Perhaps that is why I invented the Story Queen.  I love her.  She is brave and fearless and definitely has swagger.  And if you talk down to her, she’ll put you in your place with an Elizabethan insult, all the while making you laugh and feel grateful that you are a part of her circle.  She is never about her Queen-ness, she is only and always about the Story.  That is the master she serves.  Those moments of magic between queen and loyal subjects where emotion, thought, and respect are exchanged, where history is passed on from one generation to the next--that is what the Queen lives for.  And I am proud to hide behind her façade when I must speak publicly.

Because make no mistake, I am hiding.  I am hiding the fact that I don’t really participate much in SCBWI for one reason and one reason only—I fear that if I go to workshops, eventually I will discover that I am doing it all wrong.  True.  I hear you laughing on the other side of the screen.  Go ahead.  Laugh.  But it is true.  The insecure part of me is certain that one day, you will all discover the fraud that I am.  I don’t really KNOW what I am doing.  I am just sitting down and writing things that amuse me, confuse me, make me smile or cry.  There is no method, per se, no “you are in good hands—I know what I’m doing” thing going on, because I don’t.
And I know it.  I fear with all my heart being told that I am doing it wrong.  And I fear, if I am told such things, that I will believe them.

Now, I am not so thin skinned that I cannot accept what others say about my writing.  I can and do.  That’s all part of the game.  Not everyone likes or even wants to like the same thing.  And I’ve had my share of lengthy editorial letters expounding on the areas in my stories where I make no sense. (True, it happens). 

I suppose at this point in the entry, dinner had to be made or something like that, for it just kind of ended.  But my head is in a different space now, so I'd like to end on an encouraging note.  Yes, it's true--I don't know what I am doing all of the time in my writing.  But writers have to risk it.  We have to risk the unknown in order to create wonder.

(Those books that scroll down the side of this page are proof:)



Stephanie Thornton said...

I love your honesty Shelley, because I think most of us writers feel this way at some point.

Just the other day I thought to myself, "I feel like a fraud." I feel like I should always know what I'm doing when I write, but I think that's part of the magic of writing--sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. There's really no formula. (At least not for me!)

And BTW-I love that your book is on the Battle of the Books list for my daughter's grade! She's starting kindergarten and already blowing through picture books so I'm waiting to see if her school has Battle of the Books. So cool!

Julie Dao said...

Thanks for sharing this, Shelley. I'm on the other side of the fence right now and the grass looks pretty green where all of the published authors are picnicking, but I keep reading that they have fears and worries too and it's really a wake-up call. I think there's no end to the worrying no matter where we are in this crazy business, but I think that if you and the Story Queen make kids smile and create and enjoy reading, you're definitely doing something right.

KateCoombs said...

Sounds familiar--I'm a swaggering chicken, too! (And often feel like I've said or done something stupid...) But I will say, I've been to the SCBWI Conference several times and it's always full of really nice, friendly, creative, fun people. Of which you will be one! So take a deep breath and have a good time! (Note: I learned not to go to "useful" workshops, just the ones that appealed to me on a gut level.)

storyqueen said...

Stephanie-Since you are a teacher and an author (same as me) let me ask you this--when you are with teachers, do you feel more like a writer, and vice-versa? That's the way it is for me!

Julie-Thanks. And the grass is green here, don't get me wrong, but I think it takes a lot of work to make it grow...and a lot of courage to try and garden here in the first place. and I seem to always forget what a leap of faith it is to face the blank page with nothing but a pencil and imagination. Me= scaredy cat.

Kate-Good tip about the workshops. All I am looking for is inspiration. I want to hear stuff that makes me go, YES!!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Shelley! Thank you for sharing this.

Anna Staniszewski said...

Oh this sounds familiar. When people ask me if my characters are like me, I tell them that often my characters are the people I wish I could be: brave, feisty, etc. Ah the neurotic fun of being a writer... :-)

Myrna Foster said...

The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. I went through a rough spot for about the first half of this year (where I was doubting myself more than usual), but I just kept going. Thank you for being one of the people who helped me through that. You are encouraging and inspiring whether you are the Story Queen or Shelley.

I hope you have a wonderful time at SCBWI!

Nikki said...

Gah! Stop making me love you so much.
I'm sure you are doing it right, no matter how it feels. Your picture books delighted my children - still do, even though they are older now - and their parents, too! And I've been lucky enough to read TRINKET early. You're brilliant. If that's "doing it wrong" I'd like to learn how to mess up your way.
SCBWI loses from not having you - shyness/insecurity and vast oceans of talent combined - at every meeting. I'm glad you're going this year! Can't wait to read how it went...