By Sherry Siska
Don’t be gettin’ above your raisin’, now, you hear?
Well, don’t you think you’re little Miss High-and-Mighty?
Did you see her, running around, thinking she’s all that and a bag of chips?
Just who the heck does she think she is, Miss America or something?
It took me a really long time to admit to people that I was a writer. Even after I ‘fessed up, I still worried that people would think I was trying to “get above my raising”. I just knew people would judge me as being crazy, delusional, untalented, unworthy of success, not good enough, a fraud. I also had another problem: I didn’t want people to think badly of me. I wanted them to like me and think I was a good person.
It’s really hard to create when you’ve got a crew of people sitting on your shoulder, people like your parents, grandparents, former teachers, pastors, past boyfriends, editors, agents, potential readers… I used to always be super aware of that heavy load as I hit the keyboard. “Shit,” my character would say. In my head, I’d see my mom and grandmother frowning and shaking their heads. “Darn,” I’d type. Sex before marriage? Not my characters! They were good as gold. And, boring as hell!
The second best piece of writing advice* I think I’ve ever heard is to write for an audience of one: your own sweet, smart self. Once I learned to send my imaginary audience off to find their amusement elsewhere while I got down to the business of writing, my stories became a lot more fun to write and to read. My characters are now free to cuss, drink, smoke, have sex, and behave like the general heathens they are. Oh, sure, sometimes I catch a glimpse of my great grandmother fanning herself in shock, but, sorry, sweetie, as much as I love you, a girl’s gotta write what a girl’s gotta write.
Because, really, what the hell difference does it make what ANYONE else thinks about me and my writing? The only person whose opinion should matter is my own. Right? Not according to Martha Graham.
She said, “ There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” (1)
If I choose to, in fact, free myself from being the judge of my own output (well, except for the much necessary revision and editing), I’m actually giving myself permission to let go of the outcome and concentrate on the one and only thing I have control over: the process of gluing my butt to a chair and letting the writing flow. I am free to let the characters tell their story. I’m choosing to believe that what people think about my writing doesn’t necessarily mean they think the same thing about me. I’m choosing to believe that, even if every single other person in the whole world thinks I’m delusional, crazy, untalented, unworthy of success, not good enough, and a fraud, it doesn’t make it true. I’m choosing to fight back when that voice in my head tells me “people like you aren’t writers” by saying “Yes. Yes, they are”. Or “Why the hell not?”
I know I’m not the only person around dealing with this. There is a pile of aspiring writers, actors, musicians, artists, dancers, etc., out there letting the voices drown their creativity.
If you’re one of them, well, here’s my ADVICE:
It’s time to stop being afraid. To finally stand up and ask: just what the heck’s wrong with gettin’ above your raisin’, anyway?
(*The first best piece of advice I ever heard about writing and being a writer has to do with butt glue. I’m not sure who said it, or if I read it somewhere, but the advice basically comes down to this: if you want to be a writer, you gotta write! You need to glue your butt to the chair and get on with it. And, you gotta stick with it.)
(**”Butt glue”, of course, is also applicable to ANY goal one might have.)
(1)Bold is my addition; I found this on Wikiquote, where it was cited as follows: As quoted in The Life and Work of Martha Graham (1991) by Agnes de Mille, p. 264, ISBN 0–394–55643–7.