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October 15, 2015

When We Think Our Writing Isn’t Worthy.

Drew Coffman/Flickr

I write in whole notebooks and on torn-out pieces of paper. I write at home, in cafes, on trains and buses. I write with a plan and without. It’s my habit, my getaway and my choice of pastime.

But do I ever share any of my writing? Not really.

For a while I chose to think that maybe I was just lazy, and I made fun of how prolific I was.

But as a pile of notebooks kept growing by my bedside, the idea of “laziness” had to be tossed away. I knew this explanation didn’t fit anymore.

Writing is not my problem. Sharing the result is.

The idea of putting out the raw, unrefined mass of my existence scares the hell out of me.

My early experience of writing wasn’t too inspiring. I was an eager second grader excited to share her own poems. Poems that were compared to other students’ work and discarded in the nick of time. Back then I had no concept of “writing no matter what.” When my teacher said I wasn’t good enough to write poetry, I took it as absolute truth. Respect for authority and mentorship, you know.

Recently, I decided to make a list for myself. A set of all the reasons not to share my writing online. A lineup of questions that flash in the back of my mind before I hit “publish.”

When my writing insecurity rears its ugly head, I stand tall and answer these questions as if my life depended on it:

What if people don’t like my writing?

We can try hard, employ our writing skills at their best and spill our guts out as honestly as we possibly can, yet still get a negative response.

Once in a while I read something that makes me feel time-mugged and literary-abused. But as I scroll down to see the comments, I see that there are tons of readers who found the article useful, or even life-changing.

If someone doesn’t feel connected to the idea we’re sharing, it doesn’t mean our writing is useless. It’s useless for this one person, while others may see themselves in it.

What if someone wrote about it before?

Someone did write about it before. I’m afraid there is nothing that hasn’t already been laid out on paper.

The story matters, but so does the way it’s being told. A writer’s distinctive voice is what turns the same plot into a different story.

I used to roll my eyes at the sight of relationship advice books. Until the day I sat on my bed with one of those for hours, yelling out, “I do it all wrong!” every ten minutes. In a sea of books on the same topic I finally found something that stood out and spoke to me personally.

What if my grammar isn’t perfect?

Mine is definitely not. My first language is Russian, and I am still guilty of trying to apply Russian punctuation rules while writing in English.

For a while I felt like rushing into writing in English was not a good idea. I wanted to take time and make sure my grammar skills were flawless.

Is anyone’s grammar perfect?

Who invented it? Who decides where to place commas, points or colons? Who holds an authorized right to discredit your writing for a misplaced dash?

Grammar is important. It’s there to help convey an idea to the reader. It’s there to insert a dramatic pause. It’s there to make a word heavier. It’s there to separate and join, to single out and exclude.

It is not there to make writers feel uncomfortable and unsure about their work. We need to make it our ally, our partner in crime, our most precious tool.

“What if I don’t possess any outstanding experience to share?”

I lived in my hometown for 17 years, shuffling mindlessly between home and school, hoping to move someplace else. Nothing was exciting or out of the ordinary. But as I look back today, life in post-soviet Belarus seems almost surreal.

We are so settled in our everyday routine, so used to not giving it much credit. But for someone who lives a different life, ours is a mystery—an experience worth sharing, a road never traveled.

Writing sincerely and unapologetically is the boldest thing we can pursue. We strive to write with an equal share of honesty and compassion, but are we compassionate to ourselves in this creative process? We read and re-read our works, wondering if the quality is there, if any more errors linger. It’s our shared battlefield.

This might or might not change. One thing, however, is perpetually true: Our writing is always worthy.

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Relephant Read:

For Aspiring Writers: What Matters Even More than Grammatical Correctness.

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Author: Liza Kautaniuk

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Drew Coffman/Flickr

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Liza Kautaniuk