I don't like to talk about writing, much of the time. There is a reflex in me that makes me close down whenever anyone asks me about what I'm working on, how I write, how I'm getting on. Oh, I can talk about the generalities -- voice and pace and dialogue and so on -- if I have to, but even then, I'm not really comfortable.
You see, in my head, writing and fear are all tangled up. And I do not like to be afraid.
If I have a single talent, it's fear. I'm really really good at it. I can fill myself up, inch by slow inch, until my skin is no more than a thin boundary on terror and every single part of me is sparking with alarm. I can turn enjoyment into duty and duty into fear in a matter of moments.
It doesn't really matter why this is so. Let's say it's how I'm wired, and move on. There are lots of things that scare me, mostly irrational (it's a fact that I am far more afraid of zombies than I am of being run over. When it comes to things like that latter, I'm fairly calm). And when the spiral, the heavy dead grip of fear takes hold, I find it almost impossible to break free. Once that shiver is under my skin, it takes over.
And writing is scary. People say this a lot, and there are endless lists as to why. Fear of being exposed, of failure, of taking risks... I understand all of those and I sympathise, but, for all their familiarity within the language of writers, they are not really what I mean when I think about the intersection of writing and fear. What I mean, what this fear means to me is this: I am afraid to lose permission.
It sounds ridiculous put like that. And, on the scale of real fears -- of being murdered for one's race or gender identity or sexual orientation or faith, of famine, of flood, of homelessness, of loss of freedom, of persecution -- it is a tiny, unimportant thing. It's ridiculous. I know it's ridiculous, and yet there it is, making me unsafe in my skin.
I'm not good at permission. There are lots of reasons for that. Some of them are socio-cultural, to do with class and gender. Some are personal, to do with lived experience. Many of them are just plain irrational. But in the end, most of the time I hover on the edge of feeling I am not allowed to write, that me writing somehow takes away from others, that it's wrong. I've felt this about writing since long before I was first published. It isn't about public space (though I worry about that too, because there are enough white writers already, and I'm nothing special). It is, quite simply, about whether or not it's okay for me to set down words in a line on a page. Even if no-one will ever read them but me and a handful of my friends.
This looks nonsensical, even to me. But for whatever reason, because of how I'm wired, because of the things that have happened in my life, I find it incredibly hard to give myself permission to do things. And writing matters. I've written since I was 7 or 8. It used to be easy. No-one minded me writing stories for myself and my friends. It was only in my 20s that I discovered how competitive some people can be, how confrontational, about writing -- which is not a competitive activity. And, well... if there is something I can do that others want, I'm wired to think its my duty to step aside and let them have that space. And once that happens, I find it very hard to try and find any new space for myself. Someone else wants it. So I mustn't have it. And I stop writing. Even just for myself, because someone else might not approve.
It's ridiculous. Writing is not a competition, though equally it is far from a level playing field and there are many many writers out there, probably far better than me, who face huge institutional, social and cultural barriers. It matters hugely that writers who face fewer barriers -- writers like me -- boost and support those voices. They matter far more than my nonsense.
But fear is funny and it smothers us. When that inner place where my writing, at least, comes from, is bound up in fear, it paralyses everything else, too. I stop feeling like me. And I am doing it to myself. Those other people are not withholding permission. I don't matter to them at all. And so I'm writing this, to remind myself that this is my fear, not something external to me. To expose the fear to the open gaze of the web, to remind myself of my own ridiculousness. To expose it, even, to anyone who does think I shouldn't have permission.
Because it isn't up to them. It's not up to anyone but me to grant that permission. And, well... I need to learn how to do that by myself.
Skirt of the day: blue cotton print.