A Safe Place To Write

Recently an acquaintance posted on Facebook to express her disdain for the word “compelling,” calling it “the dullest, most non-descript, dead-giveaway word” that people use “to prove…value instead of contributing actual value.”

This startled me. I had never thought of “compelling” as a posturing sort of word. I found myself anxiously scanning my most recent Bemusings post to see if I had described anything as “compelling.” And then I thought, “Wait a minute. What if something I read or heard or watched compels me to take some sort of action? To reevaluate my priorities or my opinion of something or someone, to make a phone call to someone I’ve not talked with in a long time, to volunteer for something? What if ‘compelling’ fits? I’ll use the word ‘compelling’ if I want to.”

I get it. I do. I get the need to stay away from clichéd phrases that lose their impact from overuse, or lose their meaning from misuse. I have a few pet peeves of my own: for instance, “each and every.” I personally would like to fish-slap everyone who uses that phrase.

And then I remind myself that I’m not always right. That not everyone agrees with me. That not everyone who uses the phrase does so without thought. That legitimate uses for the phrase do exist. That some people use the modifying phrase for its original purpose: to give extra emphasis to its object. (That my 10th grade English teacher would give me a big fat zero for writing an entire paragraph composed of sentence fragments.)

In short, I remind myself that I am not the Language Police, and I should not judge others harshly for using a phrase I despise. Some people like the phrase, and (*sigh*) that’s ok (I guess). Some people just haven’t thought about it one way or the other. Should they be told to sit down and shut up? And if someone tells them to sit down and shut up if they can’t use a more original phrase, should they?

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I am slowly but surely working my way through a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The book’s premise encourages readers to trust that creativity exists inside each of us. Encouraging us to tap into our own creativity, Cameron tells us to give ourselves a safe place to start trying. We must give ourselves permission to be a beginner, and to not hold our first stumbling efforts at whatever we’re doing (writing, painting, singing, knitting, whatever) up to professional standards. The goal, initially, is to simply take the first steps on the creative journey.

In the beginning, when you’re just finding your way, you sabotage yourself if you apply harsh self-criticism to your endeavors. Plenty of other people will happily point out the flaws in your creations without you doing it to yourself. And no matter how much experience you gain, you will find your faith in your creative worth sorely and repeatedly tested. You will need to muster every ounce of your faith – specifically, faith in the belief that God, the Creator, created you in His image and therefore created you to create as well – to keep moving forward. You simply have to give yourself permission to sometimes produce work that just isn’t that great. And even when others write scathing commentaries that (even if they’re not about you) nearly paralyze you with feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, or make you wonder if you’re setting yourself up for ridicule and humiliation because you’re just too cliched, or naive, or whatever – well, what of it? Nobody died of humiliation. So, take courage. Persevere. Work to get better at your craft.

When I began this blog a few weeks ago, I set a goal to post on a weekly basis, as I had essentially done for nearly five years as a small-town newspaper editor, with a weekly column. There were times when inspiration came slowly, if at all, and I was pounding out a column mere hours before press deadline. Sometimes quantity trumped quality.

In my few short weeks as a blogger, I’ve encountered a new element: the capacity to measure my own writing against that of other bloggers. I find it exhilarating. Perhaps I should find it intimidating, but, I confess, I do not. Rather, it challenges me to be more mindful in my approach to writing, to pay attention to and be more adventurous with the use of design, photos and videos. It challenges me to be mindful of the quality of my content. But it also provides a place for me to grow, and to learn from others: iron sharpening iron, as it were.

Before reading The Artist’s Way I preferred to write well or not at all. You would think that blogging would make that more of an imperative than ever. So many people out there – some who don’t even consider themselves writers – write beautiful, witty, emotive, powerful, substantive prose and poetry. Some include artwork to go with their writings. Some focus on particular topics, while others, like me, write whatever comes to mind.

I tend to follow the adage to “write what you know.” Occasionally I find my own company so boring I wonder why anyone would want to read my work. But sometimes I find myself in the throes of an experience many others have shared, and I know people will relate.

It’s been a few days now since I posted anything, and I haven’t felt particularly inspired. But I feel compelled (see what I did there?) to write anyway. Some weeks will just flow more easily than others. And that’s ok. I’m writing again. The rest will come.

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