I finally figured it out.
It has been 31 years that I’ve been on this earth, and I have been writing for most of them. The moment I could put words into sentences, I wrote my first short story. Of course, back then I thought they were long stories, being around 5 hand-written pages.
I can’t remember when it stopped being fun. I don’t think it ever did. What I do know is that when I was writing those stories, I didn’t think about anything else other than writing them. Once I reached middle school, I became painfully aware of what other people thought of me. I only thought about what I should write that would make them like it, or me.
The crazy thing is, I have never received a negative comment about my writing, from anyone. That’s mostly because I never shared it with anyone that wasn’t my inner circle of friends. I wrote stories that were a bit longer, but I couldn’t seem to finish them. I would get an idea for a new story and then start all over.
What was really happening was that I would get to a point in the story that would demand a revision. I’d find a hole in the plot, or a character flaw, and once I reached that point, I began to criticize my writing as if I were someone else. “This is what they’d think” is the frame of mind I would be in. I would rip the story apart verbally, then literally, eventually turning the anger inward and telling myself how terrible I was. I spoke on behalf of everyone I knew, and even those I didn’t, as if I had just read my pages aloud in the school auditorium and was met with boos and insults.
Starting a story feels great. The idea is fresh, and you haven’t had the time to develop it much, which means you haven’t had time to find its flaws. I love thinking of the opening line. “What can I write that would make people want to read the 2nd sentence?” It might be my favorite part. So I lived in the constant state of blissful creativity to a slow decline, ending at malicious self-hatred and doubt.
This cycle continued for years. I just turned 31 and it was only recently, like a few weeks ago, that I finally figured it out.
Now, for those who know me, you probably know that I spent most of my teens, up until my late twenties writing rap lyrics. The short version is that, besides writing stories, I love poetry. I began writing poetry and stories around the same time. However, poems are shorter, which means that I can write them while still in the creative bliss state. I’ve definitely turned negative on some of my poems, but I have boxes, like BOXES full of ones that made it.
Around high school, 2001, I was going through puberty, and poetry wasn’t considered manly. As boys, our biggest insult we could deliver to each other was the suggestion that we were gay. Poetry…gay. It’s so dumb, but we were kids, and we were dumb. For some reason, if you take that same poem, and put it to a hip hop beat, now it was rap, and rap was suuuuuppper cool. Thus, I became a rapper.
My rap journey could be an entire 3 book series in itself, but for this post, just know that it was some of the most fun I have ever had in my life.
Towards the end of my rap “career,” I was making music with my friends, as usual, but something was different. When I used to make songs, my friends would make a big deal about it. They were impressed with my lyrics and my ability to string syllables together. For some reason, perhaps they weren’t impressed, or perhaps they were just used to it from me, I don’t know, but for some reason, the compliments stopped.
Then, I began hearing my first ever, believe it or not, after a decade of rapping, I received my first negative critique. It came in rapid fire succession, by the people I valued most. My producer, my friends, even my wife.
“Just rap, don’t sing.”
“You sound the same on every song.”
“You sound different on every song, you need a unique style.”
“Try switching genres.”
“You’re too political, nobody wants to get lectured on a track.”
“It’s cool, but you aren’t saying anything of substance.”
The list goes on. Suddenly, everyone was a critic. The compliments stopped and everybody wanted to put their two cents in. I know they didn’t mean any harm, but it got in my head. I doubted my ability to create. It was like reaching that point in the story where I had to revise, and the flaws in my plot made me hate myself. I hated myself.
I made excuses, I blamed others, I created obstacles to prevent me from making music. Eventually, I just stopped writing altogether. I haven’t written a lyric in years. I fell into a deep depression.
I managed to keep myself afloat by working out. A good workout is like a quick pick-me-up. It suddenly made the weight of the world bearable enough to put a smile on and go to work/school.
I felt like a failure in music, a failure as writer (having never been published), and a failure at life. I have done things that others would consider an accomplishment, for example, I went to school (for English composition, masochist? Or cathartic?) and achieved a master’s degree. I remember talking to Penelope about it and I told her, “I feel like I settled for a master’s degree.” I didn’t realize how ridiculous that statement sounded, but she told me I should definitely write that down. I felt like I settled because it wasn’t my intended goal in life. I wanted to be a big time rapper, and so every day that I went to school and not the studio felt like I was giving up on my dream.
A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a video from Dr. Bruce Lipton. It was about the movie “The Matrix,” which I love, and how it is more real than we think. Not the actual events, but the idea that we live in a world that we create with our minds. I recommend going to watch them, as they are too long to summarize accurately here, but he gave some tips on how to retrain the brain. Basically, I have a brain that is programmed for self-sabotage and self-defeat. My mother has the same mentality, and I learned it from her. It isn’t her fault, she had a tougher childhood than mine, but through no fault of anyone’s, I have this type of mind set. I could write forever about this idea and its link to impoverish neighborhoods, but perhaps in another post.
I tried some of the techniques that I had just learned and I can’t believe it, but it works! One of them, as silly as it sounds, is while you are laying in bed, about to fall asleep, your brain is dropping into a lower frequency, Theta waves, and that is like being in a hypnotic state. During this state, when you are feeling yourself about to drift off, but are still conscious, just start thinking, “I am happy.” while picturing yourself being happy. I did this, and the following morning, I woke up in a great mood. Maybe it is the placebo effect, maybe not, I don’t know but I have been doing it every night since, and so far, I have been feeling great!
Feeling great about myself is new. I have always been full of self-loathing and have many times looked in the mirror, saying aloud, “You’re worthless” or “You’re ugly” or “stupid” etc. I have never liked me. The past few weeks, I actually do. It is an incredible feeling. What’s crazier is, I have been writing again, every day. I enjoy writing by hand, and so I bought a nice fountain pen, and I have been writing a fiction story. I have 26 hand-written pages so far, and I already have reached that point of finding plot holes. This time, I just wrote down some notes on a separate sheet of paper, and kept writing. I look forward to waking up at 530 in the morning to write. I write a few pages, no pressure, and then I read. I haven’t read a book for pleasure in god knows how long. So I decided, I’m going to add blogging to my morning routine. I don’t care what about, or who reads it or doesn’t. Not anymore. I cared so much that I gave up on it when I didn’t get praise. Now, I don’t need it. I don’t need anyone else’s validation.
I write, therefore, I am a writer.