On Not Stopping
Today I’m here with the tiniest pep talk, in case you need one. I do.
A few months ago, I had probably my most meaningful speaking engagement of the year. Was it on book tour for my memoir? No, though that was wonderful. Was it giving a presentation for Creative Mornings? No, though I had a great time doing that. This pep talk begins in a high school auditorium full of fifth graders. My son Rhett was one of them.
When one of my son’s teachers reached out and asked me if I might come talk about word play and word choice to all of the fifth-grade classes in the district, to dovetail with their ELA unit, I first asked my son if it would be awkward or weird for him. I wouldn't have agreed to do it without his okay. He said, “No, that’s cool. Whenever you talk, you’re usually out of town, so it’ll be fun to see you do it.”
Okay then! No pressure!
The kids were terrific—they listened, laughed, wrote quietly when I gave them a generative writing activity, enthusiastically volunteered to share, and shot their hands in the air when it was time for Q&A. They asked about where I get my ideas, and what my next book is about, and when I started writing poems.
And then one girl up front asked, “Did anyone ever try to stop you?”
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Wow. Talk about a pointed question. This is what I told her, in so many words: “If anyone has tried to stop me, it’s been that little voice in my head that says I’m not good enough, or no one will care what I have to say, or my idea isn’t very interesting. And my job is to turn down the volume of that little voice—the ‘inner critic’ we sometimes call it—and believe in myself and keep going. And I hope you do that, too.”
I didn't know what the takeaway would be for them, but I found out a week or so later when my son came home with a huge envelope of bundled homemade thank-you cards from each school.
I read each note, and they mentioned what I talked about in my presentation—using sensory details, playing with the sounds of words, being true to your own unique voice—but I noticed something else that came up in many of them. Something from Q&A.
They were paying attention. They’d taken it to heart.
The truth is, even if no one else tries to stop us, we can be our own worst enemies. It reminds me of that 1979 horror movie When a Stranger Calls, and the famous line from it: “The call is coming from inside the house!” Imposter syndrome, or insecurity, or fear of judgment, or doubts about our own talent or ability…all of these things have the power to stop us from creating, if we let them.
Let’s not let them.
I hope you turn down the volume on your inner critic today—and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next—and just make something. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be better than the last thing you made or the next thing you’ll make. It just has to be yours. That’s enough.
Love and solidarity in the trying—
Maggie (as seen below)