Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Don't Expect Too Much From Me

I decided to take some writing classes this winter. I attended my first creative writing class last week. One of the activities in the class was to do a 10 minute 'free write.' The instructor gave us a topic and turned us loose to write for 10 minutes. We were instructed to keep our pen moving and not stop, even if we just wrote "I don't know what to write," over and over again.

After the 10 minutes of writing, each person was given the opportunity to read their piece aloud.

I was nervous and a bit self conscious. Luckily, I was in the middle of the pack, so I had the opportunity to watch others read their works aloud before I had to do it.

There was a lot of good writing presented by my classmates. Many of the pieces were very fine. None were horrible. Everyone made a good, solid effort.

What struck me was how each person 'introduced' their piece. Every single person said something before they started reading what they had written. Usually it was something like,

"This is my first writing class, so please keep that in mind,"


"I'm never any good at these free writing exercises,"


"I didn't do very well on this,"

or some other remark that was basically explaining their own perception that they had somehow failed.

It pained me to hear all these wonderful people saying that they didn't have confidence in what they had done. It was actually physically painful. Like I said, all the writing was acceptable. Besides, this was an 'exercise.' Even if a person wrote "I hate this and I don't know what to write" over and over again for 10 minutes, they would have successfully completed the assignment.

What is it in us that wants to make sure that no one expects too much from us? What part of us is afraid that what we have to offer is so bad it requires a disclaimer before we share it with others?

I had the same impulse in the class. When my turn came, I too was tempted to say it was my first writing class and that I was uncomfortable sharing what I wrote. I wanted to say that, but I didn't. I made a decision to say nothing, and just read my piece for what it was and let it be OK. That's what I did. It wasn't comfortable. I was very self conscious. I wished it was 'better.' I had all the same feelings I heard in the voices and saw on the faces of my classmates as they took their turns. I just didn't voice it publicly. I wanted to do it for myself. I also wanted to set a different example of how we might put our work before others - without fear or shame.

The comments were positive about what I wrote. Most were amazed at how much I wrote in the short 10 minute period. I do write very quickly. It really doesn't matter whether the comments were good or bad. It was an exercise. We are all in the class to improve our writing. We are not expected to produce perfect writing in the class.

And yet... that terrible self consciousness. That deep desire to ask people not to expect too much from our performance.

We are not what we write. We are not what we do. Over identifying with what we do or write is dangerous business. We are entitled to be human. We are entitled to make mistakes. We are entitled to flounder around in the learning process.

I want to be free of that awful internal feeling that what I have to offer 'isn't good enough' and I'm committed to doing whatever it takes to accomplish that. I have that same wish for everyone else as well. I hope we can all find that place inside where we are allowed to be ourselves and where we feel good about what we have to offer. Accepting ourselves as we are is how we become free.

Next time you are asked to share something, try to do it without offering a disclaimer first. Just smile... and do it!

No comments: