Writers, Let Your Freak Flag Fly

March 4, 2016 § 36 Comments

N. West Moss

N. West Moss

By N. West Moss

Writing requires bravery. I’ve heard this a thousand times, but what does it mean? When I was getting my MFA a few years ago, some classmates interpreted it to mean they should write about taboo subjects, like masturbation (sorry) and heroin addiction, that the brave part of writing was confessing one’s deepest shames and most private moments. As off-limits as the subjects might have been, I found the scenes of stuff like this oddly bloodless and uninteresting. To equate bravery with solipsism is a mistake that a lot of beginning writers make, myself included.

I think the courage that is required for being a writer is the courage to figure out who you are, and to pursue THAT without shame. It is our obsessions that make us unique – our obsessions with words and sounds, with themes, with people, with what we have and what we have lost and what we wish we’d been given. It is the sum total of our life, at a given moment, that makes our art separate from, but in concert with, all other art.

I’m a late bloomer, so I was in my 40s when I came to realize that embracing my obsessions (about miscarriage, death, yellow fever, bees, etc.), and my own contradictions (for instance my sincere belief that I am both a genius and a failure, or that I simultaneously love and detest humanity), that all of this is the detritus that makes up the soil where my writing grows.

So I write about what I think about (the vulnerability of the guileless, about social insects and mosquito-borne illnesses, about gardens and miscarriages and fathers who have died) but the bravery to write has little to do with the content of what I write. The bravery seems to be about the content of my life, and my ability to sit squarely in the middle of my life’s mess and embrace it as mine. The bravery, in the end, comes not from looking inward, or it doesn’t for me anyway, but from sitting squarely in the soil of my own life, and looking outward, as only I can.

N. West Moss has had her work published by The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post, Salon and elsewhere. Her writing has won the Great American Fiction Contest (2015) and two Faulkner-Wisdom gold medals. Moss’ first collection of short stories, The Subway Stops at Bryant Park, is due out from Leapfrog Press in the spring of 2017, and she is at work on two novels.

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