This weekend, I submitted an essay to be included—if selected—in an anthology about the role of writers in our current political environment. And then I tossed and turned all night in between nightmares about spelling and formatting errors. Suffice it to say, I was a little anxious about submitting my work.
The normal thing to say here is that I was nervous about my work being judged or that I wouldn’t win the contest, so to speak. But, if there’s anything you’ve learned about me over the past few months, dear reader, is that I’m not *that* normal. I was anxious because I knew in my writer’s brain that the authors of the chosen essays went into the cavernous pits of their subjects and that I had not gone deep enough.
I’d asked for feedback on my essay from one of my memoir instructors at Gotham Writers Workshop in New York (and I cannot thank this instructor enough for taking the time to give me feedback, and while she had been sick, to boot!). One of her suggestions was to tie my personal story with the universal theme of the essay more closely. I’d upended the entire draft, accomplishing to the best of my ability what she’d explained, and I’d felt great about it…for about 12 hours, and many of those were spent sleeping.
As I re-read my work, I could feel my author self floating on the surface of the topic. I’d chosen to write about the trauma of one of my best friends dying, so I attribute some of the shallowness to that; I don’t particularly like re-living hurtful events, so my mind must have gone into a protective stance to allow me some distance as I discussed the trauma in writing. (I’m not going into detail about the piece because I just submitted it and don’t want to give anything away to the editor in a Google search.)
“Come on, Vonetta, you can go deeper,” I told—no, scolded—myself.
Why couldn’t I delve further into events that are eternally burned on my brain? Why couldn’t I remember some of the things my friend said to me that would have broadened the essay to a truly universal point? What was I afraid of?
I searched my mind for answers. It told me: The topic is painful and I don’t want to do that right now, and also, I feel inadequate. Do I really have the talent—yes, talent is necessary to join in matrimony personal and universal truths—to participate in this? Nope.
So, friends, that’s where I am today, sitting in front of my laptop, trying to prove my Imposter Syndrome wrong.
Today, I’m going to read to give my writer’s brain a little break. Reading other people’s work gives me perspective on my own. This is not to say that I compare my work to other people’s; reading boosts my sense of empathy. It allows me to put myself in other people’s shoes, which, in turn, allows me to better understand myself.
Right now, I’m reading Donna Johnson’s Holy Ghost Girl, a memoir about a girl who travels with a tent revival group in the 1960s. My life is pretty different from Johnson’s (aside from all the Jesus; I had a lot of Jesus growing up), but reading her story is helping me identify some of my deepest unknown desires, such as recognition by parishioners for being the child of a pastor and the power that that position holds.
See—I’m making progress already. Take that, Imposter Syndrome.