Hard Truth About Writing: Diana Abu-Jaber Edition

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On page 76 of Diana Abu-Jaber’s forthcoming memoir, Life Without a Recipe, she perfectly articulates every writer’s secret fear.

Good excuses are everywhere when you’re too scared to do something.  Pick them like berries off the bushes- too hard; too late; too expensive.  Anything but admit it’s inside of yourself: you’re too scared.  I accuse myself of weakness, wonder if that’s why I started to write.  Because I was too scared to stand up at the table and say it out loud- whatever was hiding in my thoughts.  I chose fiction, that protective cloak of imagination, so if anyone I knew ever got angry, I could deny everything, insist, I made it all up.

More on this luminous book later.  In the meantime, let’s talk about this paragraph.

At this point in my life I think it’s safe to say that my writing is not going to set the world on fire.  I think it’s also safe to say that on the days when I wake up at five am and push the cursor, I am happier, nicer, and more easy-going than on the days when I sleep in.  While I may not change the world, I change myself, and my perception of the world, which means, ultimately… that my writing really does change the world.  On a scope limited to my daily interactions, but still – that time is important.

Tell yourself it’s the journey that matters and get to work.

I like to think I started writing to harness my demons, make them pull me through life rather than drag me down.  Over time I came to understand that writing was the best way for me to access my feelings (perhaps because of northeastern stoicism, or maybe due to issues of being the Child Of an Alcoholic); I really couldn’t tell how I felt about something until I wrote about it.  So that’s cool, too.

But Diana Abu-Jaber’s words hit home.  I don’t like to think about how large a part fear played in my decision to become a writer, or continues to play in my writing life.  It started because I realized I had my hands in too many things and needed to focus.  If I wanted to explore fashion, or painting, or acting, or interior design, or singing, I could do it through writing.  By making characters who were into these things, I could have it all.

Or maybe I was just afraid of failing if I tried my hand at any of those things, so I wrote instead.

I grew afraid that was true, so I wrote a lot to prove how devoted to the craft I could be.

But I was afraid of rejection, so I never submitted work anywhere.

Then I got scared I’d be stuck working in kitchens for the rest of my life, so I sent a dozen short stories and essays to a dozen magazines over a couple of days and got back a dozen rejection letters over a course of months.

All that rejection made me afraid I wasn’t good enough, so I stopped submitting.

After a while I worried that all those years of effort were for nothing, so I stopped writing.

Pick the excuses like berries – it’s too late, it’s too hard, it’ll never amount to anything… or embrace the fear.  Accept that writing is an act of cowardice that takes a brave soul.

And get to work. 


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