Two months ago, Jen Violi propositioned me with the promise of a goddess.
I’ll give you a minute to process this.
The goddess in question (perhaps obviously, if you know anything about the divine Ms. Violi) was Venus, and Jen was offering her to me as a dose of literary medicine. Jen’s newest venture invites you to indulge in a weekly dose of “Elixir of Venus: The Write-amin for unleashing your goddess-sized voice.” Here’s how it works: after signing up, you receive a Write-amin every Friday, delivered to your inbox “without expectation, to use how and when you choose.” Which is good because Lord knows a high school teacher can’t budget a whole lot of time for writing. Really, this seemed perfect: I would receive prompts each week that I could answer whenever and however I wanted, and simply receiving the emails would remind me that writing was something I not only wanted to do with my life, but needed to do. And guess what? That’s exactly what happened.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t have a few doubts about my ability to commit to this. The first couple of Write-amins came and went, and, despite Jen’s gentle reassurances that these were delivered without expectation, I felt incredibly guilty about not carving out the time to complete them. But then time came, and I found myself writing about something I know a whole lot about: Fear.
Y’all. I’m a paranoid person. I turn my locks about five times before I go to bed. I check the back of my car before I leave my driveway. I once slept with my sneakers on because I heard a noise that I later attributed to opossums. I could probably write a whole dissertation on fear. And yet, when I started writing about fear per my Write-amin, I found that I wasn’t writing about those fears at all. Instead, my thoughts on fear narrowed further and further toward one surprising point: fears connected to my writing.
The Write-amin asked: “Where has fear held you back from doing something you love? How might fear have protected you or served a purpose? What fear are you ready to release? This week, write a love letter to your fear, thanking it, releasing it, asking it to help you understand your current state of affairs—or all of the above. Whatever feels right.”
And so I wrote what felt right, without stopping to revise, and what I ended up with was something pretty raw. It’s the uncensored, insecure writer Lefante, just unleashing it all on the page. And so, in the interest of really overcoming my writing fears, I share it with you: unrevised, uncut, and unapologetic.
Ah. We meet again, old foe.
You’ve got an uncanny ability, Fear. You just creep right in when I least expect it. Like right now, when I’m completing my first Write-A-Min. Sometimes I don’t even notice you’re there and I realize, after it’s too late, that you’ve prevented me from doing or feeling something that might not have been as dangerous as you led me to believe. You’re a tricky one, Fear. Why you gotta be like that?
It’s healthy sometimes, I’ll admit. You’ve saved me from some pretty stupid things: bungee-jumping, hard drugs, spandex. But sometimes you go a little too far. Would it really have killed me to stay in that relationship just a bit longer to see where it might have led? Would I really have spilled into a puddle of humiliation if I went to that wedding by myself? Would my ego really suffer all that much if I submitted that short story and received rejections? You just slip on in there, nestle yourself equally in my brain and my heart, and make yourself at home. This is where we’re having a problem. You’re a squatter.
Squat squat squat.
If we’re going to approach you in the literary sense, then there is the obvious fear of exposure. You know, Fear, that I put myself out there via the written word on pretty much a daily basis. Facebook and I, we share a special if somewhat unhealthy bond. And while I post pretty much whatever is in my head, I do stop to revise several times out of the age old fear (not that I’m calling you old, Fear, but…well, I guess I am) that I will publish something in which I look foolish. And that, my dear frenemy, is probably your greatest gift: making me fearful of looking silly or unintelligent or simply wrong. You censor my voice, it would seem, and it isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes, I think you keep me from speaking my mind. Sometimes, when working on the novel or short story, you keep me from writing scenes that would further the plot and really dive deep into the characters’ psyches. And why? Because of the fear that writing some of these scenes will be too difficult. Because of the fear that some will believe it to be too edgy or inappropriate for young adult readers. Because of the fear that digging deep into the characters will reveal something about myself.
Because of, well, you.
I’m not a particularly polished or neat or tidy kinda person (Fear, you know this, as does anyone who has ever ridden in my car or shared a classroom with me), but one part of my life where I am pretty OCD is in my writing. I correct spelling errors in text messages, for God’s sake. And so, because you usually get a pretty bad rap, here is my thank you: thank you, Fear, for making me so paranoid about presenting myself poorly to the public that you’ve forced me to learn the difference between past progressive and past perfect tense. However, if you could maybe let up a little bit, I could take a few more risks with my writing. Allow me to be a little messy with it sometimes, to ruffle up plot lines and allow characters to make some pretty terrible mistakes. They’ll figure out their way in the end. And when they do, I bet the writing will be better for it.
Your devoted, paranoid pal,
And so there you have it. Not a novel by any means, but it’s more than I otherwise would have written on a Sunday afternoon, and it revealed some truths that I hadn’t really admitted, not even to myself. It’s not pretty, and it’s possibly not even coherent, but it’s an exact blueprint of how my brain works and what I’ve buried beneath all my grammar and mechanics knowledge: the fear of writing something that isn’t perfect. The fear of writing something that matters. I blew my own mind, I’m not gonna lie.
The Elixir of Venus has given me a whole new look on how I approach my writing and what I specifically need to work on. This, I think, is where the Write-amins have made a difference with my writing. I’m allowing myself to be a little more raw, a little less veiled, and a whole lot more open. Perhaps, if you would like to unleash your own goddess-sized voice, you might check out www.jenvioli.com and see if Write-amins might be the right prescription for you. With goddesses like Venus and Violi on your side, it would be pretty hard to lose.