Monday, July 31, 2017

My Heart isn't Disposable: The Burden of a Teen Writer (Part 1)



“It’s hard to write.”

These words and other similar ones have leaked from my pen over and over these past three years.

I feel…

Overwhelmed. Shot down by the world and its wrath. My imagination, wild with pretty worlds and descriptions is also eager with longing for a better land of peace, prosperity, and life. As I imagine new worlds with characters and plot twists, I imagine our own little place in the universe to be better than it actually is.

I wonder at my struggle to string words together. My creativity has rarely run dry—It doesn’t make sense to me. Yet, it makes plenty of sense, because today I find myself constantly bombarded by the pessimistic spirit of the people around me—all living their lives void of hope, redemption, and purpose. I feel them like a current, heavily pulling my body down under the depths of their ocean over and over again. Their plague feeds off me. Over and over I say the words, “I can’t write” and I recognize that it’s their current taking me prisoner, forcing me to join their ranks. Swiftly, news programs and coworkers in despair challenge every hope that I cling to. “Life’s too hard.”
“It’s only downhill from here.”
“Make sure you like your job or you’ll have nothing to live for.”

Shots fire across the skies in Monsul, and with them take the blood of our children. Condemning words blaze from the mouths of superficial pastors, and those kill the passion in our brothers and sisters. Spirits of depression and anxiety are welcomed with open arms by our teens who haven’t been told that our God is so much stronger. I can’t write because there’s a bullet through my hope right now, placed strategically by the enemy of God, compelled by disappointment after disappointment.

So is this war?




***

When I sat down today to write my feelings out on this page, I had planned something a little bit different to say. I wanted to talk the young writer. The one who’s starting like I did, writing their goals out on post-it notes, and notching away at chapters for future books. I remember being you and today I’m wishing I could go back to being the girl who wasn’t concerned with marketing, chronic illness, or making money to live on. There’s one thing I want to tell you about the writing profession, and it’s important. By now I’m sure you’ve figured out that writing is actually one of the best things ever. I think so, too. But as you’ve listened to me lament just now, you’ll also realize that it’s hell sometimes as well. Some days, I feel like everything and everyone is against me, and still I have to press on. This is my dream.

When I started my first book so cleverly titled, “Nothing Left but Hope,” I remember how proud of it I was. I had this little folder that I kept it in and I brought it with me everywhere, sometimes to share with my closest friends, sometimes to “edit,” and sometimes just to stare at. Every word of that manuscript was completely, wholly mine, a piece of tangible imagination that nobody could take away from me. Other stories I shared as well. An unfinished novel called “When we Reach the Sunset,” my book “Rain Dancer,” and my novel, “Reaching Home,” all found their way into the hearts and inboxes of friends and relatives. Sometimes I would even share my passion with strangers, or with acquaintances who expressed interest in writing.

In 2013, all of my hard work paid off and I signed a contract on "Reaching Home" with a small publisher from out West. There is nothing in the world I was prouder of than that piece of paper. Soon after the contract though, life began to alter for me. Strangers would come up to me and ask about my book. People from my homeschool group who I hardly knew would strike up conversations about story genres and they would want to know about the characters from my novel. What was my writing style like? Had I heard of this other teen author? How much money was I going to make from my novel? Was this just some sketchy self-publishing deal? Did I know what I was getting myself into? Did I write about myself or were the characters purely made up? Could I read some of their writing and give my opinion?

Obediently, I answered these questions, and more. I allowed friends and strangers to fill my inbox with their own creations. I created polite conversations and opened up about my stories and my future as a writer. From the guidance I received from my publisher, I knew that talking about my book was important to them and imperative to my novel’s success.

It didn’t take long for me to feel overwhelmed and completely burned out. I sat down to write another book and the words stuck in my throat. Voices and opinions, criticism and enthusiasm overflowed my brain until there was no room left for creativity. I felt pressured to be something to everyone, to be a role model, a good Christian, a good writer, a good mentor. I was living every day like a high-schooler, but feeling the weight of a greater, heavier responsibility. I couldn’t put words together, I started dreading the questions, and I tip-toed around people who I thought might threaten my walls of coping mechanisms.

A few days ago, I was reflecting on this time in my life and I tried to pinpoint some sort of event or expectation that pushed me over the edge, into the oblivion of silence and self-preservation. I discovered that it was this: being an author required me to share my greatest treasure and deepest heart—my stories—with my enemies, with people I hardly knew, and with people who made me feel unsafe.     

This didn’t happen with everyone, or even with most of the people I encountered. It was probably my own sensitive heart that made me feel threatened so easily, or even my own pride. The point is that I did, I felt threatened. There are few things in this life that make me feel more uncomfortable than sharing information—even impersonal—with people I don’t trust.

With the responsibility I had to my publisher to get the word out, I felt as though it was my job to share about Reaching Home with anyone who would ask or listen. I didn’t realize how emotionally involved sharing about the story would become. I was prepared for an onslaught as soon as my book hit shelves, but I didn’t expect it to come the day I wrote my signature on that dotted line. I didn’t expect it to come this way. Fear and stress drove me to lose the joy I had found in writing. It was like my soul stopped speaking its own language. I felt so dead inside.

This summer I started a rehab program that’s supposed to help my body stop hyper-reacting to mold exposure. In the program, students are taught how to stop “trauma loops” that are created by the brain when the person feels threatened. I have started to notice that in stopping these trauma loops, not only have I been able to walk out of moldy buildings unscathed, but I have also gained significant ground with my writing. I have noticed myself thinking creatively more often, and my desire to write stems more from the joy of it and less from harsh responsibility.

Last week, for the first time, I opened up to a fellow artist about my book. I talked to her about my passion, and she listened. I talked to her about my characters, and they came alive. I found healing and peace in our conversation and in the broken “trauma loops.”

Perhaps my struggle with writing has been health related, perhaps not, perhaps it’s been a little of everything. Whatever the cause, I know I’m not the only one who has fought through the thick walls of writer’s block only to come out on the other side and realize there’s still more to conqueror. I see a lot of advice columns written to young unpublished writers, posts titled things like, “8 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Published,” and sometimes those posts make me laugh. There’s really only one thing I wish I’d known before signing my name to those documents and that is this: I wish I’d known it was okay to stay myself. I wish I’d known that among all the huge responsibilities placed upon a writer, the biggest one of all is to not change who you are. I wish I’d known that writing my heart out doesn’t make it disposable.

Sit down, breathe, and make your own path. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” Seek out the right times, places, and people to talk about writing with, and if you ever feel uncomfortable, it’s okay to stop the conversation. You don’t owe anyone information. The most success in writing comes when you know your boundaries, learn to stay true to you, and love what you create.

Love,

Stephanie



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11 comments

  1. Lovely post, life has been depressing and writing has been hard. It's nice to know I am not alone in that.

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    1. Thank you, Skye. <3 You are absolutely not alone. I've been talking to a lot of people who are all feeling this right now. The creative life is hard sometimes. Did you see the resource I linked to, "Is Writer's Block a Form of Self-Protection?" Read it if you get a chance! That article really helped me better understand myself.
      Also, this is my contact page. Feel free to email me if you're ever feeling down. Remember that it's always okay to take a break from writing if you need to. You're in my prayers! (http://stephaniekehr.blogspot.com/p/contact.html)

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  2. This was very profound. I don't want to be a writer anymore, but I definitely felt that anxiety back when I thought writing might be my path. Telling people about your writing is always tough, and you put it to words so wonderfully. :)

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    1. Thanks, Heather! The anxiety of it is tough, but I love writing as much as I struggle with it. :) I'm sure you'll be great in whatever career path you choose, and I'm glad you're still sticking around the writing world. I enjoy chatting with you here and reading your own blog posts!

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  3. Stephanie, I just read this post. You definitely have writing talent. You have an incredible ability to write a coherent paragraph and a great range of vocabulary.

    But you sound a little down on life. Young people often get too caught up in what people around them think. Some people are just plain downers. I decided many years ago not to let those people affect my mood or bring me down with them. Be who you are and don't worry so much whether or not everyone likes you or approves of you. Your true friends will stay your true friends through all the ups and downs in life.

    As a two time cancer patient and survivor, i truly understand the challenges life can throw at you. It's important to stay positive and try not to get on an "emotional roller coaster". You can't control the events that happen to you and around you: But you can control your reaction to them.

    I'm not religious like you but I really do see and enjoy your writing talent. Stay positive!

    Dave

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  4. This is such a beautiful and inspiring post. Thank you for sharing your story

    -Zach
    zacharypierpont.com

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  5. You are beautifully transparent, Stephanie! And your keen sense of analysis seems to be beyond your years. Blessings and best regards for your future writing! --Your Good Catch Publishing mentor and trial writer trainer, Marla :-)

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    1. Thank you so much, Marla! I have loved working with you!

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