On Writing and the Fear Factor
December 28, 2015 § 19 Comments
By Jacki Skole
I read to put off writing, and lately, I’ve been reading a lot.
Sometimes I read about writing—books like Lee Gutkind’s You Can’t Make This Stuff Up and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Sometimes I read the nonfiction I’d like to write. Recently, that’s meant a lot of magazine-length and flash nonfiction. I suppose I’m hoping for some sort of literary osmosis to take place.
All this reading makes me a bit of a hypocrite. When I speak to students in a Writing for the Mass Media course I teach at my local community college, I tell them, “To become the writer you want to be, you must read, and you must write—write a little every day.”
And yet… I don’t write every day or every other day. Sometimes weeks pass.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve never considered myself a writer. A journalist, sure. I spent a decade in broadcast journalism before stepping back to raise two daughters. Missing the work, but wanting to be with my girls, I launched a second career teaching journalism to college students. Still, I missed the reporting.
So, inspired by my dog—I’m living my own “who rescued who” story—I wrote a book. Even had it published. Am I now a writer? Or since the book is the outgrowth of my reporting, am I simply a journalist? Do I do a disservice to journalists—story-tellers all—if I consider journalism distinct from writing?
Recently, I’ve been struggling with what it means to be a writer and how I want to incorporate writing into my life.
Is writing a calling? I’ve heard some say it is and that it’s as essential to living as breathing. Or is writing merely a skill to be capitalized on in pursuit of a career, be it in journalism, advertising, publishing…? Is writing both? More? Must I answer this question if I’m to move forward?
Back to why I’ve been reading. A few hours with The New Yorker or Creative Nonfiction, a book by Tracy Kidder or Barbara Ehrenreich, and I feel productive, empowered even. I’m learning new things about our diverse, too often dysfunctional world, discovering innovative ways to cover it, uncovering fresh approaches to writing about it. That same time spent in front of a Microsoft Word document can yield nothing—or at least nothing worthwhile.
But perhaps the primary reason I read rather than write is fear. It tells me the book I wrote was a one-off, that essays rejected by newspapers and literary magazines more accurately reflect my talent, or lack thereof. It never lets me forget the Boston Globe reporter who taught newswriting at the University of Michigan, whose criticisms remain fresh twenty-plus years after they should have become stale. Fear has, until this essay, grounded my ability to write.
I’m hoping this essay is a first step in taking on, if not overcoming, my fear. I’m also making a New Year’s resolution—unusual for me as I’m not a resolution maker—to write a little every day, just as I tell my students. But since I don’t think I can go it alone, I’m getting help from a book I bought several years ago and let languish. It’s part teacher, part butt-kicker. The title is going to be my mantra: Now Write! Nonfiction.
Jacki Skole is a journalist, adjunct professor and mom (not necessarily in that order). Her book, Dogland: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Dog Problem, was published this summer by Ashland Creek Press.