Writing can be personal.
Even if it's just our marketing copy going out every week, we can't help but feel a tinge of exposure, vulnerability, defenselessness, susceptibility, insecurity; we think our writing is crude, immature, insufficient, inadequate, unorganized, incomplete, nonconversational; we are unskilled, inexperienced, unqualified, inexpert, incompetent, unfamiliar.
But here's another word that belongs in that same mix:
That was the word that came up several times during this past weekend's seminar. But the funny thing is that, even though this word—"raw"—is synonymous with all of the other words above, this word was used with a positive connotation. We all wanted our writing to be, and admired others' writing that was, raw.
So what's the difference?
Nothing. Everything. That's why we've given it a different word!
This is the joy, pleasance—and labor—of writing and words.
So earlier this week, when I was doing some (these days) rare journaling, the word "embarrassment" popped up, and I couldn't get it out of my head. And I thought about it. And yes, I looked it up. And then I sat with it for about a day. And I thought about how we too often let the embarrassment of writing stop us from writing.
It came to me after I remembered a moment almost two years ago, at a (non-writing) workshop. We had been asked to introduce ourselves with our name and a gesture. I rose my hand. And then broke down and cried.
Because I realized that I used to be a person who raised her hand and volunteered for just about everything. To read, to answer the question, to sing the solo lit up as the Christmas tree in the Holiday Bazaar. I jumped on opportunities. Okay, so sometimes my volunteering got me into embarrassing situations, but I didn't care. Embarrassment be damned.
But somewhere, this tiny, fearless girl, who could never be seen above anyone else in a crowd, was picked out every time because her hand could reach high.
That girl got lost in the crowd again.
Because I turned the embarrassment of writing into shame.
Brené Brown talks about the differences between shame, humiliation, embarrassment, and guilt. (This is why I love this woman, aside from her brilliant findings—her willingness and ability to reimagine, redefine, and dive into words.) In the dictionary or thesaurus, some of these words might be given in relation to one another, they are synonyms even, but that's not because they're the same, it's because they have slight nuances that might make one word better, more accurate, more fitting than another.
I've always been one to laugh at myself. In fact, I'm so good at laughing at myself I've had to be careful to not instinctively laugh at someone else in a similar situation. (I really do care—it's just that my reflex is often laughter.)
But I stopped being able to laugh at myself when it came to my writing. I took it very seriously, which was a good thing and a bad thing. But I was afraid of what would happen if anyone read it or critiqued it or judged it. I turned my own laughable embarrassment into shame. I was, even, embarrassed by my talent. I didn't want anyone to see it. I didn't want anyone to judge it, or me, for having it.
But such can happen with writing. It is, after all, at times very personal. So when we share it, whatever the reaction to our writing we see as a reaction to ourselves.
This weekend I went to the informal gathering of fellows of the 2017/18 Atheneum writing program, where I met one of my poetry faculty members—who turned out to be an attorney who at some point realized she had seen me in a video from a series of legal writing lunch and learns I did for the Oregon State Bar a few years ago.
I laughed. At the time, I had been humiliated by the experience because, despite my months of preparation and the fact that I did say some things that I thought they needed to hear, I was nervous, even ridiculed for using poetry in one of the seminars, and completely thrown off by the majority of registrants who were in theory on the other side of the camera listening at their desks (but in all reality probably were not).
But now, I'm just embarrassed by the whole thing. So I laugh. I laugh that someone might have seen me so nerve-racked. Or maybe they didn't see it at all.
I learned a lot about myself and what I wanted to do with my talents after that. And so now it's just funny that someone who knows me from that time is now going to get to know me during my rebirth into poetry.
And so it's funny, that we let this embarrassment of writing halt us, if even for just a moment. Because in all honesty, that's exactly what we want to do: We want to raise our hands and be seen and put ourselves out there. We want our writing to be honest, raw, vulnerable, sincere. In fact, writing is such a practice in being raw there's even a reading event in Portland, and I think nationwide, called Mortified.
But here's the rub: This kind of writing is some of the hardest writing to do. It takes time, patience, and work to get to that level of writing. Because when we sit down to write, it is common to write the way we think we're "supposed" to write. You know, the way we've been taught. With the voices of hundreds of others speaking to and for us instead of clearing all the muck to get to the real treasure: your voice, and your true experiences.
But here's another overlooked aspect of "embarrassment": in the context of the "embarrassment of riches" (which is a phrase my husband loves and we agree isn't used enough). In this sense, "embarrassment" is an excessive quantity from which to select. And in that sense also, we all have an embarrassment of experiences and resources and ideas to pull from. The secret is to give ourselves the time to find our voice, and our lessons in the embarrassment.
I have an embarrassment of writing. I have almost an excessive quantity from which to choose—and so, shouldn't I share that? Of course! It is what I have to offer this world. Embarrassment be damned!
NOTE: There's an embarrassment of amusing words that are related to and synonymous with "embarrassment" that I wasn't able to squeeze into this blog (entanglement, imbroglio, exigency, pickle, rub, knotty point, hobble, etc.). I urge you when you have the time to look it up and explore it yourself.
Ready to start writing?
Getting started is the hardest part. Sign up for my Free Your Voice newsletter to get regular tips, prompts, and inspiration.