Writing is like dancing.

When I finally sat down to write this post, I couldn’t do it.

That damn blinking cursor stared back at me and just kept incessantly blinking and blinking until I thought, “No, I’m not going to write this post.”  And it won again.

But I’m not going to let it.  I’m not going to let it tell me that I can’t start that previous sentence with a but and the one before that with an and.  I’m not going to sit here and stop myself from doing what I love, because I doubt my own skill.  What I love is writing, what I love is starting with a thought and putting it into words for others to read.  That is what this post is about: writing.

First, though, I’m going to talk about dancing.  When I was in high school, I used to dance a lot.  I would dance at parties, I would dance at dances, I would dance in private and in public.  Somewhere along the way, I stopped.  I used to believe that I was a decent dancer, that I could move to the rhythm and that others thought I could dance well, too.  Something, and it would be too difficult to pinpoint what it was, made me stop.  Suddenly, when I danced I felt awkward and large.  I didn’t know what to do with my face or my hands; when I danced I looked ridiculous.  So what changed?  Was it me?  Suddenly did I forget what rhythm felt like?  Did I ever know in the first place?

Nothing about the way I danced changed, but it was my perception of the way I danced.  Something about me changed.  Maybe someone made fun of the way I danced, maybe I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, but suddenly I cared what I looked like and not how I felt.

Around the same time I was dancing, I was writing, too.  I wrote everything and anything, and I wrote every. single. day.  I had a journal that I kept and I would write fiction and poetry, too.  And I thought I was good at it.  I worked at it, I studied it.  I read it.  I lived it and breathed it.  Eventually, I found other passions that complemented my love of the written word, like a love of languages and how they work.  Eventually, writing became less and less important.  It went from being an obsession to being a hobby; how can you call yourself a writer if it is just a hobby and not something that you can’t survive without?

So, suddenly, I started to doubt myself.  If I’m not writing every day, if I’m not constantly working at this, then I am not a writer.  I do not have what it takes to be a writer.  I gave up that dream.

But why?  Why do I have to feel validated in front of other people to label myself, to pursue something that I am passionate about?  Why do I continually let my own perception of myself fail me?  If I have stopped writing, I have no one to blame but myself because I have been nothing if not encouraged by others to do this.  In the same way that dancing now seems awkward and feels  unnatural, so does picking up a pen to paper or opening a blank Word document.  It is all because I have doubted myself.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo because I thought it would kick start something in me that has been dormant for years.  It has not.  I have not written a word because the task seems too daunting.   I am too scared to nurture an idea into a novel, because I do not feel relevant, I do not feel like I could come up with something worth reading.

And if that is the case, I am missing the point.

A close friend of mine jokingly said to me the other day that she had a sign from the universe that I should keep writing.  Something I wrote randomly popped into her head and she didn’t know why.  Obviously, it was a sign.  Then another friend, on Facebook, asked in a meme I’ve seen floating around to name 15 authors that have influenced our writing.  Here is my list:

1. Derek Walcott
2. Philip Larkin
3. ee cummings
4. Tim O’Brien
5. John Steinbeck
6. Madeleine L’Engle
7. Louise Erdrich
8. Yusef Komunyakaa
9. Mary Oliver
10. Pablo Neruda
11. Jeffery Eugenides
12. Barbara Kingsolver
13. Haruki Murakami
14. Sandra Cisneros
15. Sherman Alexie

Did anyone on this list every wonder if they were good enough?  Maybe, but it obviously hasn’t stopped them.  They had stories to tell and poems to write and they wrote them.  I don’t know if these are signs from the universe, but it certainly has made me stop and think for a minute.

This is what I love.  This is what feels natural, even if I have to remind myself now and again of that fact.  I will not let myself be intimidated by a blinking cursor or my own insecurities, I will keep writing.   Those authors have given me something special, they have influenced the way I write and the stories I tell, and I shouldn’t let that gift go to waste.  But I will not write for them, I will only write for myself.

And I’m not going to stop.

32 thoughts on “Writing is like dancing.

  1. I never, ever think what I’m writing is good enough. Not compared to all the geniuses of writing I read. I know I have decent technique, but I don’t know that any of my stories are worth writing.

    But I keep doing it, because even if I’m never, ever good enough, it feels good to write. It’s the only thing I’ve consistently loved to do my entire life, and if I gave it up, I’d feel lost.

    Thanks for this post, Lu. Just in the last few weeks, as i’ve been doing NaNo, despite the good word counts, I’ve considered quitting writing altogether. I needed to hear this. I hope you keep going. I really do.

  2. I was only half-joking. And I didn’t tell you the rest of what I learned from the universe. I also thought about how you tell me that you don’t write enough any more and how you sound sad about it. I thought about how you are so good at encouraging me and how I should encourage you. I thought about how many beautiful things you have written, and how sometimes I hear your voice more clearly when I read things you write than when we talk.
    The line that popped into my head was random, but there are things you have written that I think about all the time. When I look in the mirror, I regularly remember what you wrote about the lines on your body holding it together. Whenever I hear cicadas, I picture the word ululation, and I think I blame you for that.
    You write beautiful things, things that reach people. And that is awesome, but not the point. You have something you love, and a way to get the things in your head out of it, which itself is a gift. You should write because it makes you happy, calms you down, centers you, lets you escape, and makes you proud of yourself.
    Also, lets go dancing. Maybe just in the living room, but we should. True confessions: back in high school, when I thought you were cool and intimidating, I also envied your dancing skills. ❤

  3. Sooner or later, someone (or something) plants a little seed in us that maybe — maybe — we’re not doing the right thing. It’s that moment in the high school cafeteria when that dark world in which you’ve been dancing, laughing and sweating and gyrating with your friends, suddenly becomes illuminated — and, as you said, you’re self-conscious. Awkward. Uncomfortable.

    I know just what you mean, but I can tell you this: you’re doing the right thing. You are a writer. No one can say you’re not but you. And each time I get scared by the blank Word document, I push myself through — and remember how good it feels to say something . . . anything at all. Maybe my latest novel is terrible, but I still wrote a novel.

    Most people can’t say that, y’know?

    So go! 🙂

  4. *claps hands* Lovely post! I love your linking of dancing and writing. As I read it I realised that it’s absolutely true for me too! (See, you must be a writer…) So glad that you’re going to do it. Hope you’re dancing too.

  5. I’m sure EVERY author on that list has struggled with this exact question. The other day I found a quote by dance innovator Martha Graham that speaks to it:

    “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is on a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

    I found it somehow comforting to think that “there is no satisfaction whatever at any time.” Just keep at it, lady!

    1. Emily, you have no idea how much this quote spoke to me. Thank you so much for it! I loved it and I am going to print it out and put it up all over my walls as a daily reminder.

  6. I am new to your blog, Lu, and I discovered it through Eva’s blog. This post is wonderful! Is this how you write all the time? I can’t wait to read all your posts! I love the title of the post and the fact that you have compared writing to dancing – so beautiful! Hope you are enjoying your NaNoWriMo this year. I did it for three years and loved it every time. It is fun to challenge oneself and write something everyday for a month. I didn’t do it this year, but hope to do it next year. Hope you get to cross the finish line on Nov 30th. Best wishes for that!

    I loved the list of your favourite authors – I have read some of them and they are wonderful and I am hoping to explore others.

    With respect to writers feeling worried and insecure about their writing – I think it happens all the time. And I think the best ones learn to ignore it and continue doing what they love doing – writing. Hope you are able to explore your creative impulse through your blog and get a lot of pleasure out of that, and give a lot of pleasures to us, your readers 🙂

    1. Welcome, Vishy! Thank you for the compliments. I read a really great quote that illustrated what you said about authors but now I can’t remember it. I’m going to have to go find it. I can’t even remember who said it! This is going to be difficult to find, but I’m going to have to try! I’m not sure I’ll finish NaNoWriMo, considering I haven’t quite started. But maybe I’ll do my own. Or maybe I’ll just start my own novel and not worry about a month of constraints.

  7. Love this post! I kept up with NaNoWriMo for awhile this year and officially quit yesterday, but I quit because it wasn’t working for me this month. I wanted to spend more time with what I was writing instead of rushing through it. Glad to hear you’re letting writing happen for you.

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