My first creative writing was the spiral notebook journal in grade 4. Each member of the 4th grade class was required to write three-quarters of a page each school day. Why not half? Why not a full page? I guess this was the result of some behind-the-scenes bargaining to which I was not privy. Nevertheless, three-quarters of a standard notebook page was the requirement. Realistically, this could be as few as three well-thought-out statements, but for whatever reason, the compulsory nature of the task soured it for me almost immediately. I rebelled. I tried writing with large block letters with a 2x line height. I tried doodling. I probably even offered up seventy-five cents as some kind of punning bribe. The results came harsh and frequent, and in a lilting red pen cursive whose memory to this day gives me chills: “UNACCEPTABLE.” “RE-DO.” “WRITE ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED TODAY.”
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. My thoughts were private. My theories were personal. If I was simply to record facts about the day-to-day goings on in 4th grade, then fine, but I couldn’t find any compelling reason for it beyond the simple fact of looming punishment for noncompliance. I soon found myself in a pickle: Betray my own privacy by conforming to the spirit of the assignment, or (and this is what I actually did) perform the task technically with the most inane bullshit I could conjure.
I discovered meta writing much earlier than my peers. I found that writing about writing was not only fulfilling the scholastic requirement, but it was a creative form of protest. Almost every entry into my journal ended with “Well, almost three-quarters of a page. I’m almost there. Whoa, these cursive letters are stretching wider and wider by the word. There, exactly three-quarters of a page. Happy?” If I could have turned that into a cursive stamp, I would have.
The thing was, I knew that the entries would be reviewed by my teacher, for whom I had virtually no respect. It wasn’t that I was undisciplined or bad kid or anything. I think I had a fairly keen bullshit detector even at 9 years old. So I wasn’t willing to bare my soul to someone I didn’t think was worthy of it. So I gave her what I thought she deserved: Unadulterated drivel.
Why was I paranoid? Why am I now? I still fear people finding out how I really feel about things. I’m afraid my opinions and feelings will be used against me. Why? I haven’t paid enough to therapists to get there. But I think I’m still struggling with the idea that to write something meaningful, it does have to be, to some extent, personally derived. You can force into the vocal chords of characters (even ones you expect readers to despise), but there’s still the lingering fear that it will be used against you, to criticize your character. I deal with this, and I’ve had to try to thicken my skin a bit in anticipation of the surely negative reviews that will come along with the good ones as I shove my publications into the world. Fear is my Achilles heal, no doubt about it.
The thing is: In 4th grade, all I focused on were the girls that I liked. My grades were okay, but my daydreaming was 90% girls. I couldn’t share those thoughts, I thought, because the teacher would find out, and then maybe my parents would find out, and then those embarrassing dinner conversations would become more frequent, and then I would have to just wither and die. If that sounds insane, then welcome to my head.
These days, it’s: My day-job is on the line. I want continued comfort for my wife and I. Twitter is a fucking minefield. What if what I create entices waves of backlash unlike I could conceive and it ends up with social exile or deportation? These are severe and unlikely end games, but my mind goes there. Is it worth the risk to try to make a little cash from creativity, when real creativity involves risks that could be so off-putting to strangers that it could end in financial punishment or even violence?
These are the fears. In some weird way, I’m a fourth-grader, fearful of showing my real feelings to an audience I underestimate. But I’m moving forward, hoping against fear that the positive to be gained from readers who will connect with what I have to offer outweighs the negative from those who won’t. Neurosis, man. It’s a full-time gig.
If you’re a writer, or a creator in other ways, I’d love to hear feedback on how you deal with the fear of putting things out there, or what your struggle looks like.
Thanks for reading.