icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle


Inspiration vs. Intimidation

One of my workshop students enjoyed the assigned readings last week but found them intimidating. Another student said she didn’t listen to my suggestion before writing; she read the readings after doing her own writing. It was only the second class so my guess is that these two brave students—one man, one woman—who expressed a fear of not being able to write as well as seasoned, practiced writers, were not alone; they were only braver. So I thank them for raising an issue to discuss in class and here, raising it openly, thus exposing their own vulnerable selves to a group of peers who are still strangers.

As it happens, today is the birthday of the longest-serving First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, born in New York City (1884) who said, as anti-communist witch-hunting began to sweep the U.S. after her husband died, that few Americans were brave or bold enough to speak out and stand up for freedom. She complained that the "American public is capable of doing its own censoring.” I feel the same way about my students sometimes. Why do we always put the brakes on and retreat? What do we fear exactly when we read a worked, admirable piece of prose? That we can’t do it? That we’ll never be able to do it? That someone will stop us from doing it? We live in a Great Democracy and it is our mandate to write and read with gusto and appreciation.

That said, writing is hard work. Without models of aspiration and accomplishment, how are we to learn what we must do to make a piece of writing work? There is no such thing as undue influence. True, we may try to imitate a fine sentence or paragraph, but that is only practice. Soon enough, we will fall into our own cadences, our own subject, and our own voice.

Sometimes students ask me to suggest books “about” writing. I never do. My suggested reading lists—fiction and nonfiction—are by writers who write—freely and bravely—about what burns inside them. They are offered as inspiration, not intimidation.
Be the first to comment