Writing through fear
How to write? No idea. I mean I know what works for me; I read and take long train rides. I am always thinking in poems, some are white noise as I stare out the window, others demand to be recorded and with urgency. There is no off button, but there is a choice to record them or not. I choose to, even if I think I’ll throw it away once I’m done. The habit of writing is addictive and instills a confidence in myself and my work. I have a whole drawer full of napkins filled with bleeding lines and mismatched pages. There is a special place in my iPhone notes app where poems go to die. The point is, it’s not a performative act. I do it because there is no expectation to crush my writing before it exists, no pressure from the strangers peering over my shoulder while I write in public. I do it because poetry brings me joy, and assigning shame to writing crushes creativity. I am in no way qualified to give you a step by step guide for writing (if one could even exist), but I can share things I’ve discovered through my own experiences that make it easier.
I recently sat down with a writing friend a few weeks ago, with the chance to discuss something other than school work. We were able to voice small life blunders and give each other some advice. My friend looked at me for a while, then finally said, “You need to relax and be brave”. I thought about that, and while the advice was meant for my personal life, it was even better advice for my writing. Every time I put my pen to paper it requires both these things: relaxing enough to let myself write without hyper-editing as I go, and being brave enough to know that work doesn’t have to feel finished or perfect for you to share it. Writing should never be self-conscious, or censored. In fact, it should be fun.
Relax by trusting the process. Some days I can write three complete poems, other days I spend hours writing long entries, exhausting what little creative energy I had to begin with. It’s all okay, there can be ease in the process and you can be in the process and not know it. I was stood up by a friend this summer and ended up sitting on a bench outside of Kensington, watching pigeons eat bread for two hours. This turned into a poem, and then a theme of poems followed. Sometimes the process is just stopping and listening. I often feel like observing other people’s lives is part of my job, and to do this, I have to do it objectively.
Be brave enough to say what you feel, and be brave enough to experiment with how you say it. It takes courage for me to share my unfinished work, but the lingering excuse of “it’s not done yet” prevents me from moving forward with my writing. A safe first step is to start with someone you trust, and outsource from there. Wherever it is, the process is important and hearing other people’s opinions are equally important. The best way to get people’s opinions is to read. Out loud. In front of strangers! There is nothing I am more scared of, than standing in a badly lit bar and reading my work. If there’s a microphone it’s game over. I didn’t know I could sweat through my elbows, but poetry readings have taught me that anything is possible. Going to readings alone can be scary, but worthwhile. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still awkward but be brave and meet new people. Their work may inspire you, or they might care enough to give you advice on your own.
You don’t have to sit down and write a novel, just start with a line. Writing is something that should bring joy and the advice my friend gave helped pull me out of the struggle I created. Writing is a choice and sometimes it’s hard but you are the one who chose to do it, so just get started.
Rachel Kearney is a writer from Toronto who is interested in the intersection of poetry and design. She is pursuing her Bachelor of Design with a minor in Creative Writing at York University. A chapbook is forthcoming from above/ground press.