Writing and Self-Doubt: Trusting the Eyes

by Haley Littleton October 20, 2015

I look amidst the room at the PhD candidates, published writers, and all around brilliant human beings and want to put my head on the table. I’ve spent half the semester feeling out of place and the other half questioning if I am one of them—a writer. As an MA student in literature, the scholar constitutes the external, but internally, I imagine myself with a typewriter and the next provoking literary masterpiece.

Thus, I find myself in a graduate prose seminar. I obsess over my first collection of submitted work the whole week after I turn it in. Dread rises up in my stomach, and I imagine the word impostor stamped across the front of the paper. Are you supposed to be here?  But when the papers are returned, there is a single line at the end of the comments that reads: Trust your details and yourself. 

I like to get tangled up in my language and let the threads tie me into the piece. I think this is why I like to use many different ways and methods of describing one complicated thing. I’d like to think that people would want to sort through the threads. But it is often cumbersome, rambling, and of little importance to the reader or cadence of the piece. I tend to shroud something in excessive language so that it’s not as vulnerable. Lean, simple language feels vulnerable.

 

I use complicated language to veil the intimacy of the piece because it feels uncomfortable, awkward, far too real. I think of the quotation that writing is merely sitting down at the typewriter and bleeding. But most days, I don’t want to deal with the mess that this blood creates. And if I do decide to spill it all, it is cleaned up into a manageable form that is creative and intellectual, but hardly raw and poignant. I’m learning that writing comes down to scarcity and trust.

Scarcity in that the force of the content is in the essence of the image. In paring something down to its essence, I find poignancy in scarcity. If one is bombarded with image after image, attempt at explanation after attempt, blood after blood, then the piece flattens under the weight. I think there is much in my writing that could be discarded in an effort to get down to the force of the content. I’m always searching for a scarcity in image, but a complexity in meaning, something that unfolds on itself multiple times, like a piece of origami.

Perhaps I don’t know what it might unfold to . And this, for me, is where it comes down to trust. Trust comes in a multiplicity of forms—trust in the details, the readers, and oneself. We always want to explain. We always want to make sure that the readers know what we’re doing, what we’re trying to get at. Perhaps if we give them image after image, we will drive our point home. And while we know the mantra, show don’t tell, we want to make sure that they get it.

As a reader however, when I feel the hand of the author guiding me to some preconceived idea or end point, I feel manipulated, as if I am not trusted to discern the piece on my own. (This is part of the reason why Henry Fielding has always rubbed me the wrong way.) As a student of literature, I appreciate it when a writer is confident enough in their images and symbols to lead me through the narrative, discerning my own way as I go. I think of Flannery O’Connor, who willingly allowed a multiplicity of understandings within her stories; she welcomed it.

Ultimately, I’m learning to trust myself as a writer, that I am capable of the craft of it all. I am learning to trust that I have something worth saying and a unique way of saying it. Writing is giving oneself permission to see the world and transcribe. Writing is a permission to enter into the glowing nature of the ordinary. To see and feel and describe, knowing that the act is worthy in and of itself. To trust oneself as a writer means to trust the eyes, and that these images know what they’re trying to say, even when we don’t.




Haley Littleton
Haley Littleton

Author

Haley Littleton is a second year Master’s student at the University of Denver in Literary Studies. A former intern for Ruminate Magazine, Haley writes here and there between her studies and exploring. With an interest in environmental criticism, climbing, and love of craft beer, Haley finds it doubtful she will ever be pulled away from Colorado.



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