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Jenny: First Words

Hello everyone! I’m Jenny, 39, married to Ken since 1988, mom of three sons (18,15, & 7) and one daughter (18 months).

I started writing in the early 90’s after taking Writing for Children, a 2 year course offered through the Institute of Children’s Literature. Patricia Calvert was my instructor and it wasn’t long after completing the program that several of my articles were published in a local magazine. The last time I wrote an article was 2002, when THE FEAR set in.

My greatest hope is to write again, complete projects I started several years ago, and find who I really am as a writer. THE FEAR has paralyzed me all these years… even writing this post fills me with anxiety, knowing others may see the flaws within both my limited typing skills and my thought processes. I try hard to be perfect and in the many areas I fall short I make an effort to at least give the impression that I am. This self-induced stagnation is unbearable. On one hand I’m wasting the creative gift I was given and on the other I doubt/deny the very existance of that gift.

I need to let go, learn to take risks, and accept that it is okay to be human. I need to accept that not everyone will find value in my work and not everyone will be pleased with what I’ve written. I need to accept that I am an adult and the words I write and actions taken by my characters are separate from who I am. If my characters do or say something entirely immoral, that doesn’t mean I am. I can’t write fearing someone else (my parents, my spouse, my children, my God) will be unhappy with me. I’m hoping someone will be able to encourage me in the mentioned areas and help me finally overcome THE FEAR.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. This is supposed to be my laundry-folding time, but I can’t resist responding to this great post.

    You are right around the same age I was at when I had some major life changes that resulted in my going into some really useful therapy. I think I was dealing with a lot of the same issues you are dealing with–particularly focused around my “family of origin”–that inhibited my writing and creativity. Until that time, I never considered the impact of my relatively normal and happy upbringing on my creative life and other aspects of my adult happiness.

    I learned so much through therapy. I didn’t learn to blame my parents for all my problems! However, I did learn to understand why I was so approval seeking, which had everything to do with having approval withheld from everyone in my household for anything I actually cared about! I got approval only for the things my parents thought were important, such as getting married and having kids, and having a corporate high-paying job. Argh! I based a lifetime of decisions on these values and ended up…in the wrong place, is all I can say. They weren’t a fit for me.

    Not suggesting this is your problem, but coming to understand these dynamics and who I was helped me enormously as a writer. One thing I learned was not to tell anyone who might not be supportive what I was working on or show it to them. Sister, brother, ex-husband–they all were critical at totally the wrong time in the process. It made me hate my work, hate myself, drop the project. Man, it still feels like crap when someone treats me in that competitive, critical way my family did.

    I only work with people who are supportive now. That doesn’t mean blindly supportive. I had a wonderful writers group, and they could sure dole out the criticism! But it came from the right place and it didn’t wound me to the core. And, of course, it still holds true not to show work to anyone too early.

    Is what you’re experiencing fear? Maybe. Could be confidence, could be learning to love your “self” (I’m trying to avoid psychoanalyzing a total stranger, but just give you some parallels to my own experience that may or may not apply)–the self who writes, who creates art. Love your work. Love your process.

    I think it’s hard to break out of these patterns without understanding the causes.

    Another thought? Find a really good writers group (easier said than done) and start showing your work to people who can help, not hinder, you.

    Finally, in terms of process, try to remember that anything you write is revisable. That’s the wonder of writing on a computer! Sometimes I think I like to revise as much as I like to write. Gosh, if it had to be perfect the first time out, I would never get anything done! Keep your eye on “eventually perfect” rather than “perfect now.” You probably know this, but you might try it as a mantra. I have a few myself (one is “push! push!” when I am dawdling).

    January 31, 2008
  2. Jenny, welcome! I think it is Anne Lamott who tells us to give ourselves permission to “write a [crappy] first draft.” If you haven’t read her, I’ve heard excellent things about her books, both on writing and not – the best is “Writing Down the Bones.” Also look into Julia Cameron, who advises in “The Artist’s Way” writing 3 “morning pages” daily about anything at all, to help clear our minds and get our juices going. She even used that method for weight loss, claiming that writing about what was bothering her prevented her from “consuming” it!

    I’m sure I’m paraphrasing horribly, but know you aren’t the first to suffer from this, and you CAN get through it. It’s great to see you here – hopefully we can help you!

    Betsy – your upbringing sounds a lot like mine. My mother still justifies having discouraged me from writing “because you can’t make any money at it.” šŸ™„ It is horrible that any parent can discourage a child from doing something s/he loves – I’ll admit I have really high standards, but I hope that I’ll be able to transmit to my sons that the only thing I care about is their happiness at what they do!

    January 31, 2008
  3. So glad you joined us, Jenny! Bravo for jumping in and posting.

    The best antidote to THE FEAR may be running headlong into it. You need to write. The more you write–on a regular basis–the less those monkeys have to hold on to. Keep yourself going creatively on a daily (or at least weekly) rhythm and the pressure will dissipate. Like many things, thinking about it and fretting about it is often a lot worse than actually doing it. But the farther you stand from the creative process, the harder it is to remember that.

    BTW, it’s Natalie Goldberg who authored the classic Writing Down the Bones as well as several other books on creativity (she also paints). Natalie says to never stop your hand moving across the page (or keyboard)–literally. Just keep that hand moving. You’ll go back and edit later; that’s a separate process. The great thing about this technique is that the only pressure is to keep spewing the words out, not to create something brilliant. That makes the risk of writing a lot safer for us perfectionist types.

    Anne Lamott’s first book was Operating Instructions–also a classic, although no a how-to–it’s a funny memoir of early motherhood. One of my favorite reads of all time.

    (Hey, I can appreciate the age spread of your children–mine are 17, 13, 12, and 2.5. The next–and last–one on its way.)

    January 31, 2008
  4. I’m also a huge supporting of the morning pages… well for me they might be afternoon or evening… and maybe even blog posts. It’s called writing for fun. No worries on punctuation, grammar, coherent thoughts. Nothing. And guess what? As soon as I finish those, I can write something better.

    And yes, I just wrote a post on FEAR. It is a crazy thing. But one thing I’ve learned, if you just go with it, you’d be surprised how many doors open for you as well as support that gushes in! Can’t wait to hear more from you!

    February 1, 2008
  5. jennymomof4 #

    Thank you all for the warm welcome and words of wisdom. You each had something encouraging to say & wonderful ideas to help work out my first problem. For that I am deeply grateful.

    I can already feel that old familiar feeling coming back~ the one where I’m seeing, hearing, experiencing things with the need to find words to describe them.

    For instance, my husband and I whispered together for over an hour late last night, (trying not to wake the baby sleeping in our bedroom) working out the details of stabbing someone in the eye with a potato peeler. Yes, I did just say that~ stabbing someone in the eye with a potato peeler. Not the least bit romantic of course, but it was an exercise I felt compelled to do. I wanted to know if I could kill someone that way, what would his first reaction be, how badly would it bleed, what sound would it make, would the person lose conciousness right away or would he be able to fight and for how long.

    I realize these are all very dark thoughts, but see, I am by nature afraid to even allow them to rise from the nastiest places within my imagination and write them down. I limit myself as a writer and I don’t want to put myself in that box anymore. My husband found the whole subject fascinating too. :O) Why does that amuse me so?

    February 1, 2008
  6. Absolutely wonderful, Jenny.

    February 1, 2008
  7. caseycairo #

    Sorry for writing in reverse order, I saw your second posting first, the one on feeling like crying, and now it makes a lot more sense. The whole business of writing is scary, at every turn. Maybe it’s a good and safe way to take risks? In this society we are constrained by so many rules, we have to do everything and be everything for our children and for our jobs. There is a “right” and a “wrong” way to do many things. In writing and other forms of creativity, there are no rules. We CAN stab people in the eye with potato peelers without repercussion, and we can sit and ponder the sights, sounds, and reactions of our victim calmly and dispassionately. It’s just so COOL.

    February 4, 2008
  8. Jenny, I could SO introduce you to my cadre of dark crime and horror fiction writers if you want. We all indulge those dark recesses, and you know, I personally find it’s the best way to purge all the horror I see and hear on the news. That’s why I let it flow!

    (Also, when I wrote my above comment, for some reason I didn’t realize it was you – I got a clue when I saw your avatar on your other post! It is just so cool that you’re blogging here now!)

    February 4, 2008

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