by Dawn Spaulding
I’ve begun writing this post more times than I care to admit. The mean-spirited, hyper-critical voice in my mind commands my finger to the backspace key over and over again. My brain buzzes with ideas, but the words don’t survive on the page for very long. Delete.
As long as I can remember, I’ve held on to the patently false idea that anything I write (or do at all, for that matter) must be good in order to be worth doing. It must be good, spontaneous, and easy. Outlines, rough drafts, and edits are crutches for the untalented and uninspired. Good writing flows freely, without mistakes, in its most perfect form. If it’s not, you might as well quit.
That’s what I’ve done, so many times. I’ve spent a small fortune on gorgeous, brightly colored journals that waited to be filled with the brilliant thoughts and ideas that were surely overflowing inside of me. I’d lift my expensive, weighty pen to the crisp, lined pages and write a few sentences, then read what I’d written. Maybe I’d misspelled a word or used the wrong verb tense or made some other inexcusable misstep that confirmed the voice in my head was right — I was no good.
It’s been a common theme in my life: a loud, mocking, cruel voice cackling in my ear, reminding me I wasn’t enough. Perfection was the only goal, and I’d never be able to attain it. It’s the reason why I couldn’t fill more than one page in a notebook. Why I left a university to sporadically attend community college classes. Why I spent twenty years languishing in one mediocre job after another. Why I settled for a deeply unsatisfying marriage for far too long.
That voice stole my self-worth, my ability to enjoy life and hobbies, my desire to learn and grow, to exercise my body and my mind. Decades disappeared before I’d even realized the damage that had been done.
I’m finally discovering how to quiet the voice that tells me I can’t. Or that I shouldn’t. Or that trying will inevitably result in failure.
Reducing the voice from a roar to a murmur has allowed me to pursue things I never dreamt possible. I gained the courage to leave my marriage and met an amazing man who loves me for who I am while encouraging me to strive for more. I’m learning to relax and enjoy being silly with my sweet, incredibly precocious preschool-aged daughter.
I left a well-paying but stressful job to become a full-time student. At the tender age of 42, I enrolled at Oakland University as a senior — thanks to all those community college credits. The first semester is kicking my ass. And I love it. When I graduate in Spring 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in Integrative Studies, I’ll be the first person in my family to reach that achievement.
Lastly, I’m writing again. I didn’t realize how much I missed it. I’d forgotten how good it feels to create, to express difficult feelings, to transform raw words into something meaningful. I’m a bit rusty, and maybe I’m not that great. So what? I’ve learned to do it anyway.