By: Claudia Ricci, Ph.D.
All Writers Feel Vulnerable From Time to Time
One of the best professors I had in grad school, Richard Goldman, imparted a very important lesson to me.
It was in his class on character development – a terrific course. I was writing my first novel, Dreaming Maples, and I was moaning to Dick that there were sections of the novel, as well as some of my short stories that I didn’t feel were particularly successful.
I can still hear his response: “It doesn’t matter. You have to love all of your children,” he said, stroking his grey beard.
I thought about Dick Goldman’s advice yesterday, after Two Drops of Ink, so kindly published a chapter in the novel I am writing now, called Pearly Everlasting.
Sometimes Seeing Your Work in Print Can Spark Your Insecurity
It doesn’t happen often, but for some reason yesterday, when I reread the post (which editor Marilyn Davis so brilliantly decorated with the best art imaginable!), I felt like something caved in on me.
I decided “Breathing the Garden” wasn’t particularly good. And it didn’t belong in the book. And I should never have shared it with the public.
Moreover, I felt embarrassed and exposed. I was imagining people reading the breathing meditation I described, and in my head, that crowd of people was laughing at me. With those negative thoughts, I cringed. I felt ashamed.
As soon as I recognized the profound destructiveness of this negative thinking, I picked up my journal and wrote:
“I am feeling very doubtful.”
Others See Our Worth – Even When We Don’t
No sooner had I written those words than I heard my husband coming down the hallway. He stopped outside my closed study door and said,
“I just read your new post. I enjoyed it a lot.”
You’d think that would have eased the doubts.
Not at all.
Sometimes the Writing Devil Brings on Self-doubts
Yesterday was one of those days when I get overwhelmed by some kind of deep writing devil. I should know better than to let this devil take over. By now, after so many years working as a professional writer, you would think I’d be sitting pretty, confident that when I write something, it will be good.
I wish I could say that I’m always confident. I’m not. I struggle. I am vulnerable.
One reason yesterday was as difficult as it was, I believe, is because the day before, writing came so easily.
Words became sentences became scenes. The writing flowed with practically no effort at all.
When Writing Works, It Really Works
I felt so free describing the little miracles that form the core of the new novel.
I’ve experienced these miracles for years, but only in the past year, and especially the last few months, have I been willing to come out of the closet and admit that I believe in miracles.
You can call them coincidences. Or synchronicities.
My husband affectionately calls them “coinkydinkies.”
Two days ago, I was gung ho going forward, spilling out one miracle after another.
But then yesterday hit, and the whole notion that I am writing a novel about
my ancestors communicating them to me
It’s Important to Understand Why You are Feeling Vulnerable
I felt vulnerable because I am still smarting over the fact that my last novel wasn’t universally popular. Oh, sure, some people really loved Sister Mysteries, but there were the occasional dark comments that I have buried somewhere deep in my psyche.
How many times have I heard myself moaning to my husband,
“I can’t write another novel. How can I do that, when the last one didn’t sell very well?”
For those of you who are just beginning to write, I want to reassure you that days like yesterday don’t happen that often.
But when they do, I know how to pick myself and my attitude up and move forward.
Journaling helps. Yesterday I relied on my journal to remind myself:
“I’ve got to believe in my own writing. These pages I’m writing might never become a novel or a book of any kind, but still, I have to love it like it’s one of my children.”
“You’ve Got to Love all of Your Children!”
I’ve got another trick for boosting my confidence these days. I came up with this technique for writing by translating my English sentences into Italian.
So the sentence I wrote in my journal became:
“Devo credere nel mio stesso modo di scrivere. Queste pagine potrebbero no diventare mai un romanzo o un libro di alcun tipo, ma devo comunque amarlo come se fosse uno dei miei figli.”
And the next sentence?
“I am writing this book on behalf of my family, my ancestors.”
“Sto scrivando questo libro a nome della mia famiglia, I miei antenati.”
There Are Tricks For Dealing with Vulnerability
Somehow seeing the translation takes away some of the sting. The soft, round sounds of the Italian are comforting to my soul.
At that moment, I happened to look up. I saw hanging on the wall the small wooden sign that my dear friend Kellie bought for me:
TRUST YOUR CRAZY IDEAS.
When you doubt yourself, turn to your trusted friends and supporters, people who believe in you. Kellie, an extraordinary artist, loaned me one of her most amazing collages in 2011 to use on the cover of my second novel, Seeing Red.
TRUST YOUR CRAZY IDEAS.
“FIDATI DELLE TUE IDEE FOLLI.”
The Audience Doesn’t Matter
Folli. Folly. Yes, writing books is on one level total folly.
It’s folly and utter foolishness, especially when relatively few people may read them.
But all I know is, as a writer, I can’t help myself. Writing is like breathing. I don’t have a choice.
And the fact of the matter is, I feel thoroughly swept up in this new writing project. When it’s working, I feel giddy.
When writing this way, it feels like a dream.
Indeed, I keep a small handmade sign that my daughter Lindsay made for me many, many years ago:
“Writing is Nothing More than a Guided Dream” – Jorge Luis Borges
I recall still another bit of invaluable advice I got decades ago when I was an obsessed cub reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. I wanted all my stories to appear if not on page one of the newspaper, then within the first three pages or so.
Listen To What Seasoned Writers Tell You
One day, a more experienced writer named Harlan Draeger, who seemed old to me at the time (he was probably in his 40s), said to me, “Claudia, my best advice is to write ‘em and forget ‘em.”
I come back to that over and over again. It helps. Get the inspiration down. Do your very best to get it right/write!
Then just let it go. Some people will like what you write. And some won’t. What difference does it make?
And if something isn’t working today, don’t sweat it. Most likely, there will be more inspiration tomorrow.
I use this metaphor with writing students: every day, I go outside with my silver cup. I wait to see what comes from the heavens. When I’m lucky, the cup fills up with wonderful writing. Other days, I go back into the house.
But no matter what, I still have the silver cup to go back outside tomorrow.
P.S. If you want a book that is invaluable in helping to believe in your writing, it’s a classic: Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. Do yourself a favor, buy a copy, and keep it close by!
Bio: Claudia Ricci, Ph.D.
Claudia Ricci, Ph.D., was a staff writer for The Wall Street Journal and a prize-winning reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, where one of her projects was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Her novels include:
- Dreaming Maples, published in 2002, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize
- Seeing Red, January 2011
- Sister Mysteries, July 2018
Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines nationwide.
Ricci spent 15 years teaching English and journalism at the University at Albany and was a visiting professor for one year at Georgetown University.
To order her novels, visit her website at www.claudiajricci.com
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