Truth be told, each day I’ve gotten up and thought of new reasons not to write an essay. Because writing is hard and sometimes I get in the way.
My essay #2 is incredibly late, which is partly because I was letting fear keep me away. And it’s partly because life and responsibilities. I got to spend time with my nephews and my niece. Spend time reading and doing nothing. I was even away in Jackson last weekend for our annual MXGM national convention for members. As usual, it was a fulfilling and enlightening time. And I snuck in a little writing each day but I still didn’t get my essay #2 done. But these are just excuses right?
There are times when things come to mind for me to write about but I feel like they don’t matter. Like they don’t contain meaningful enough lessons or any lesson at all, so why would anyone care to read them?
But deep down I know that’s a lie.
I recently started wondering if personal essay writing is harder than writing poetry. Or maybe what I mean to say is, does personal essay require a different form of energy in writing and the opening of one’s hands to give to the world than poetry does? I’m thinking of poetry that uses the “I” particularly where the poet is discussing trauma and violence the speaker has experienced. This is where my poetry often lives.
The thing about poetry is that even when some may assume your work is autobiographical that may not necessarily true. The poems could be based on actual events the poet experienced but some of the details in the poems aren’t fully true to the experience of the speaker/poet because the poem wants something else in order to be most effective. It is storytelling after all.
But personal essay writing is storytelling, too. In taking a free in-person Writing Our Lives class with Vanessa Mártir the other day, she shared with us that one of the rules of personal essay writing is “don’t fucking lie.” So not only do you have to bring craft to the page during the process but you gotta tell the truth. What did I just sign up for?
I recently learned of a poet being told something to the effect that writing poetry is easy. That writing poetry is easier than personal essay writing. My reflex response was to think of how that is bullshit and offensive. I was immediately transported to the moments of agony and pushing that came with getting through the writing and editing of a single poem. How could easy or easier be used to describe that?
But in the interest of allowing room for growth and an alternative way of looking at things, I started considering whether there was something in poetry that could create enough distance or cushion that would make it more bearable for me as a poet to write and share? Is there something about the lyric style of my poems and my use of metaphor that can create a shelter not as present in my personal essay writing? A shelter with locked doors and an open window to peek out of?
As I sit in bed and write this, I question the productivity of me weighing whether or not it’s harder to write personal essays as it is to write poetry that is fully or somewhat autobiographical. Because really…
Writing poems is fucking hard. Writing personal essays is fucking hard. Writing is fucking hard.
However, maybe it isn’t so much level of difficulty in the writing and sharing. Maybe what’s meant by easy is the idea of staying in one’s comfort zone. Like that saying goes. And poetry—no matter how difficult the writing and sharing of it is—is a place I am familiar with. Definitely more familiar with the personal essays. It’s a home that holds so much of me. Stepping out of that home to build another home in personal essay writing is what’s hard and terrifying. I’m the type of person who gets stuck when I’m faced with the idea of doing something that scares me. How long I stay in the stuckness varies. But it happens.
What’s easier is not taking a leap into a different world. This particular world I’ve joined at this moment in time calls on me to draft an essay each week. And I’ve taken the option of publicly sharing them as the founder of the challenge did each week in 2016 and is doing now. Not only am I trying to learn how to write personal essays, but I’m doing that in front of the world. It’s a small world but still!
When I write poems, they don’t get shared publicly with the world—outside of me sharing in workshops for peer feedback or participating in a 30/30 poetry group—until they have been revised and edited several times. Personally, I couldn’t do it any other way with poetry.
This challenge ain’t about that though.
Vanessa, the founder of the challenge insists that this isn’t about producing polished essays. It’s about showing up for yourself and getting out of your own way. It’s about your stories. I can think of so many times I failed to show up for myself. It feels like not showing up in this challenge I committed to doing, even when essays are late, is totally playing myself. So here I am. I’m late but getting this done anyway.
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Here’s Vanessa Mártir take on the #52essays2017 challenge and why it’s so important right now: