Sometimes it's hard to find your voice. Whether you are writing or speaking, honesty does not always come freely. We wonder what people will think of our opinions and passion. Whether we're writing a short story or an editorial about a political issue, expressing ourselves invites criticism.
For the past four years, I have had trouble writing. Four years ago, I started East Line Books, an independent bookshop in Clifton Park. All of my focus and energy went into making the bookstore work, paying the bills, becoming a businesswoman, planning and executing a plan to make East Line Books a vital community gathering place that had meaning for book lovers, writers, and anyone interested in having a deep conversation.
That's when I stopped writing. For ten years before that, I had been a freelancer with a regular gig at Nursing Spectrum Magazine, which paid some bills. I published personal essays, editorials, short stories in a variety of anthologies, newspapers, and journals. But my creativity dried up when I opened the bookshop.
I began to teach creative writing and was effective and successful at bringing out other writers' voices, supporting them, teaching them skills, and was amazed at the essays, stories and articles that flowed in my classroom at East Line Books. But I, myself, was afraid to write.
Everytime I sat down at the computer, a voice in my head said my students wouldn't think my writing was all that great. How can she teach, they would think, if she can't even write? I brought old essays to readings at East Line Books, but rarely wrote anything new. The voice in my head also told me that my customers would not like my opinions, which were often political and passionate. I couldn't write because I would alienate anyone who disagreed with me. If I alienated people, they wouldn't buy books, and then the bookstore, which has always been so financially precarious, would go under.
I signed up for online writing classes at the Gotham Writers Workshop and tried to force myself to write. Every week we had homework. Occasionally, I wrote something new, but more often, I recycled pieces I had written previously. I continued to take the online classes anyway because each weekly lecture fed my passion for the writing process, the skills and creativity involved in writing, and the online conversations we had in class connected me with other writers.
Though I have studied advanced fiction and nonfiction writing with famous authors and incredibly talented authors who are not yet known, this summer I chose an online class called "Creative Writing 101." Chip Livingston, author and poet, was the teacher and he was just great. He helped me understand why I had what many call "writer's block" and helped me open myself up to the joy of writing again.
I think my four years of relative quiet have come to an end--as many of you who follow me on Facebook may have noticed. I have found my voice again and it feels so good. To my writing students: I hope your books all end up on the New York Times bestseller lists! You will always have my unending support, as I'm sure you know. But, if you don't publish, who cares? I hope you will continue writing anyway. As I have discovered, there is a joy in simply getting your thoughts down on paper. There is a joy in simply expressing yourself. Don't ever worry that you are not good enough. Good enough for what? For who? Just write for yourself and your words will flow.
As far as my political opinions, I hope all of my East Line Books customers know that I love them. And I hope they understand that even if we differ in our political views, I will still love them. They are the lifeblood of the bookshop. They are people who think deeply and have their own opinions. East Line Books will always be a place that supports the free exchange of ideas. So, based on that, I am going to now feel free to express my own ideas. You may agree or not, but at least you will know that at East Line Books a rousing discussion of any issue will be embraced.