One of the biggest writing problems I have is one most of you can probably relate to. It is inextricably tied to the institutionalization of education and the experiences of those of us caught between Generation Y and Z.
The problem is that I have been taught to write for others.
It was innocuous at first. An encouraging comment by an elementary school teacher that “I was a good writer.” The mindless adoption of this belief by peers and (more problematically) by myself. The overeager desire by adults and educators to discover student potential—which always came poorly disguised as yearly “All About Me” posters and crude academic tracking. All of this was reinforced by institutional structures that rewarded instantaneous aptitude. The implicit understanding that identities were amalgams of these aptitudes, each of which could be discretely categorized as “good” or “bad.”
I think this experience is distinct to the generational space we live in. We learned to cling to what we were told we were good at, and to drop anything we were immediately not proficient at, or better yet, never to try in the first place. I was good at writing and bad at math. I did not question this fundamental truth and high proficiency became a survival technique. You can imagine how much fun my therapist has with me!!!
This is extremely problematic for me as a writer. Because I grew up believing that I was good at writing, I thought it should always come easily. I believed that I would always be good at writing, since early categorizations were fixed through academic tracking. I learned to expect to get the highest grade on anything involving writing; getting anything less than best was devastating because it called into question my entire identity.
Accordingly, my writing is very dependent on the reader. I tend to subvert the validity of my writing to the whims of a single reader (for example, a bad grade on a paper automatically transforms a previously decent essay into worthless trash). My most memorable experience with this in college was in a political science class where I was earning poor grades on essays despite going into office hours and doing more research than was required. Even though other people were also struggling in the class, I felt like I had to be exceptional in some way (which is extremely toxic thinking).
I think my preoccupation is a variant of Tharp’s first concern that “people will laugh at me.” Tharp rationalizes that people she respects will not laugh and that her critics have previously been proven wrong. Both her and my concerns draw strength from external criticism and some level of personal shame. However, I don’t believe Tharp’s rationalization solves mine exactly because I am trying to reach people who I might not even respect.
With these things in mind, I hope to have a ritual that is both compatible with my identity as a chronically ill student and someone who feels like I always have something to prove. I think I need to try writing with less thinking about its permanent implications. I am wondering if the stream of consciousness writing that we discussed in class might help. I also wonder if I start writing with the intention of never sharing it, I might find a more relaxing ritual.
Please let me know if you have a similar experience or preoccupation, and/or what you have done that has helped or not helped. Thanks for reading!