By Milli Thornton
Do you remember the first time you connected with the joys of writing?
For me, it was age 13 and a story assignment from our English teacher. I was burrowed into a warm and glorious cocoon, inhabiting a special, exciting world only I had the power to create.
After I emerged, I remember being puzzled that my classmates were underwhelmed with the assignment. I didn’t say anything sophisticated to myself about that. (“Oh, that’s because I’m destined to be a writer and they’re not.”) I just felt things. Like eagerness to write another story, and happiness when Miss Thomas encouraged me.
When I was 19, I wrote half a book’s worth of science fiction novel on my cheap, clunky typewriter. On a creative high I shared my pages with a family member, an avid reader of novels. Her response was “That could never happen.”
When I was 28 I shared the first draft of a story that had been pouring out of me with two women from my writer’s group. They were from the post-war era and knew about things like rations and root cellars. They both pounced on one sentence from my story, where an outcast woman in Middle Ages Britain was surviving on some withered apples that she bartered from a market stall during winter.
They crowed and crowed over the shocking idea that I had included such a detail without checking my facts. Didn’t I know that apples would have rotted long before winter came?
Neither said anything about the devastating emotional and physical journey of my character, or that I was writing with a level of passion they had both mentioned wanting for their own writing.
Later, they came back to me and said they’d checked and found that such a thing was possible. Yes, my character could have been gnawing on some withered apples to survive the winter! But it was too late. My passion for my story had already withered and died. Having them deny the heart of my writing in favor of a fact that could have been researched later left me barren.
Other “deny the spirit of the writing” incidents over several decades built up to create paralysis. Which is what led me to write my book; it was what I needed to move my gnarled writing limbs. I began to hear from others who’d been similarly affected (or much worse). In my years of working with wounded writers, I’ve heard stories that sometimes fill me with outrage—even while my heart expands with compassion for the ones sharing their painful anecdotes.
When it comes to the dread these types of critiques can create (even years down the track), going back to remember our first, undiluted joy might help reconnect something.
I remember how it felt to write before I thought of calling myself a writer. The primal experience was about being connected to a vast place so full of stories and wisdom and adventure we will never run out. All I did was tap into the channel and trust. Unselfconsciously.
This phrase came to me out of the blue and I have it taped to my monitor:
Trust my imagination. It knows the story better than I do.
Milli Thornton is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of Unleash Your Writing! and the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli also blogs at Screenwriting in the Boonies and Milliver’s Travels and coaches writers at Writer’s Muse.