Day 28: You Are Good Enough

Self-portrait:  how I think I look when I'm feeling good about myself.

Self-portrait: how I think I look when I’m feeling good about myself.

Last week was a good week. I made progress on a chapter that was giving me problems, and while I’m not sure I fixed the problems, I know I took a chapter that was once seven pages long and doubled it. I’m still not sure what this chapter is about but I have a lot more to work with and I’m much closer to heart of it. I’m finding my way through. And I had a coffee date that went well, followed by a flurry of flirty text messages…

This week was not so good.  I have been trying to work on two very messy early draft chapters that have a lot of overlap.  Each chapter needs to do something different, say something different, propel the narrative forward and instead I feel like I’m repeating myself. I don’t know which scenes need to be there, which ones should go or if I need to write different scenes.

So I did what I do: I made a list of all my chapters. I noted the scenes in each chapter and I noted themes.  When I realized I had 13 chapters I thought it was so poetic because my mother died when I was 13 so in my mind it made sense, but I still have no idea how to fix these chapters except to combine them into one chapter.

Self-portrait : how I think I look when I'm  not feeling good about myself.

Self-portrait : how I think I look when I’m not feeling good about myself.

This morning when a friend posted on Facebook an announcement of a success,  instead of being happy, I felt this incredible stab of jealousy then a wave of self-doubt overcame me.  I did an inventory of everything I didn’t have, every award I didn’t win, and every rejection letter I’ve received.

I stared at the pages strewn across my desk and I stared at the blank document on my computer.  It didn’t help that the flirty text messages stopped two days ago.  I was left feeling not good enough.

Somehow I found myself reading the Dear Sugar column where Cheryl Strayed advised a young writer to “write like a motherfucker.”  And while that phrase has become an anthem for writers, there was lot more to that column that resonated with me. Strayed wrote of her own struggles with writing:

I’d finally been able to give it [everything] because I’d let go of all the grandiose ideas I’d once had about myself and my writing…. I’d stopped being grandiose. I’d lowered myself to the notion that the absolute only thing that mattered was getting that extra beating heart out of my chest. Which meant I had to write my book. My very possibly mediocre book. My very possibly never-going-to-be-published book. My absolutely no-where-in-league-with-the-writers-I’d-admired-so-much-that-I-practically-memorized-their-sentences book. It was only then, when I humbly surrendered, that I was able to do the work I needed to do.

And some advice:

How many women wrote beautiful novels and stories and poems and essays and plays and scripts and songs in spite of all the crap they endured. How many of them didn’t collapse in a heap of “I could have been better than this” and instead went right ahead and became better than anyone would have predicted or allowed them to be. The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength. It’s nerve. And “if your Nerve, deny you –,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “go above your Nerve.” Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.

I was reminded that I need to let go of my grandiose ideas about my book. I need to stop comparing myself to other writers, those published ones I admire so much, my friends who are experiencing their own successes, and I just needed to write, to dig deep.

Yesterday my friend Elizabeth tagged me on an internet meme that’s going around: The Next Big Thing. This afternoon, after wallowing in my insecurity I started my own response and began to write. While I wasn’t working on my memoir, one of the questions is “Who or what inspired you to write this book?”  Answering the question reminded WHY I also need to write like a motherfucker.

I can tell you I’m writing to memorialize my mother, to memorialize my father, to tell someone what I know about grief and loss, to hopefully let one person know they are not alone in their grief….. but the bottom line is that even though it’s hard, I need to write this book because it’s harder to not write this book.

And I need to remind myself everyday that I am good enough–and so are you.

14 thoughts on “Day 28: You Are Good Enough

  1. Jennifer, great post! I’m also often swallowed up by the insecurities, and it’s always a relief to know that I’m not the only one. I look forward to one day buying your book.

  2. God, Jenn. Thanks for this. I needed this today. I know what you mean about the writers envy thing. Sometimes I feel like I have to stay off the Facebook because it makes me feel crazy with the things I haven’t done yet, but you’re right in needing to just keep on keeping on.. Makes me wonder what would have happened if Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath had social media… :). Anyway, I feel inspired to work today. Thanks, friend!

    Catherine, I second Jenn: thanks for being so involved!

  3. Jenn, I made an earlier comment and think I forgot to click Post Comment. Suffice it to say I thanked you for this post and added a few other brilliant things, but they are forever lost in the world of forgot-to-click-the-button world.

    And then, I found this quote, and think it fits with your post. I will be using it to start my writing shed.me blog post today:

    “I am a storyteller. The type that went from place to place, gathered people in the square and transported them, inspired them, woke them up, shook their insides around so that they could resettle in a new pattern, a new way of being. It is a tradition that believes that the story speaks to the soul, not the ego… to the heart, not the head. In today’s world, we yearn so to ’understand’, to conquer with our mind, but it is not in the mind that a mythic story dwells. —Donna Jacobs Sife”

    Not to myself: Click Post Comment. Click Post Comment. Click Post Comment.

  4. This post made me cry. Thank you, Jenn, for articulating so beautifully what I need to keep telling myself, over and over, to get myself from one good day to the next. You are good enough, Jenn. You have always been more than good enough. Why is this so easy for me to say to you with utter conviction, and yet so hard to say to myself?

    While I love the line, Write Like a Motherfucker, it has never resonated as much with me as the part you quoted about the coal miners. This is what I wrote today on the whiteboard above my laptop: “Writing is hard, but coal mining is harder. Just keep digging.” Keep digging, Jenn. Don’t stop. Because it occurred to me that Dear Sugar might have left something out. Maybe those coal miners keep digging because they have each other. It’s much easier for me to face that blank screen knowing that you (and Sam, and Nari, and Karen, and Anne, etc.) are facing it too. Which is the beautiful thing about Writer’s March.

    Keep writing, my friend, and I’ll promise to keep writing too.

    • I read the essay when it first came out. Judy, a local writer friend, is a big fan of Dear Sugar and Cheryl Strayed. So I read it then and I read it again today. I think it’s one of her all time best. Judy loves the line write like a motherfucker. I don’t dislike it, but for me, the parts about showing up and digging deeper resonate more. Maybe that’s the memoirist’s manifesto?

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