What’s so hard about writing?

Color silkscreen poster promoting conservation of flowers as a natural resource. Designed by Stanley Thomas Clough, 1939. Source: Library of Congress

Doubt. Words. Sentences. Silencing the voice that needs to explain what it is. Or why now. Or how, exactly, you do it.

I write to heal, to express myself, to forgive. I write to feel proud, I write to solve a problem, I write until there is nothing left in me to say.

Writing is work. I write despite the fear of being judged, of making a mistake, of losing a loved one. I write despite deciding there’s nothing new left to say, that it’s all been said before.

I write because what’s more important to me than all of these things is the feeling I get when I’m lost in my world, of holding my breath before letting it go, treading through the tangled brush of not knowing, rescuing things long discarded, examining them piece by piece. What’s more important is unlocking secrets. Saying what exactly what I need to say in the unwritten spaces between words.

It’s beginning a conversation. It’s picking up a smooth stone washed ashore. “Here—take this. Carry it with you.” It’s reminding others, “It happened to me, too. And we’re both going to be okay.”

At the Slice Literary Conference, September 2018

I was honored to be awarded a scholarship to this year’s Slice. I’ve attended writing conferences before, but this 2-day event was a first for me. As an introvert, I forget how hard they are: the meeting and the small-talk and the attempt to discuss my work in a way that sounds halfway coherent.

I approached a stranger after a panel about writers igniting change – a female Somali-born writer who now lives in Seattle – and failed at an attempt to verbalize my ideas and connect with her. I made me feel discouraged. It made me not want to go back for the second day. But I also didn’t want to quit. I remembered how inspired I felt after Alexander Chee’s and Porochista Khakpour’s joint keynote. Alexander Chee said his novel, Queen of the Night, took 15 years to finish. He said, “I had this habit of erasing my accomplishments”.

I realized sometimes it’s just about changing my mindset and just making it about the journey. I try to keep an updated list of my accomplishments for the days when I feel exhausted; when nothing I do or say (or write) ever seems good enough. It comes in handy.