if you don't feel like a writer, let yourself be an apprentice

if you don’t feel like a writer,
be a writer apprentice instead

If You Don’t Feel Like a Writer, Be an Apprentice. Written by Jess Davidson. Painting detail from “Penning a Letter” by George Goodwin Kilburne.

I have no idea how to tell this story.

This thought pops up somewhere around, oh, day three of prep week for my first short story. (My goal is to write three in the next three months. I’ve got a very official looking six-part plan for prepping and writing each month, complete with weekly deadlines, etc.) But halfway through the first week of this new adventure, and there I am, feeling like a fraud, completely paralyzed.

Are these characters right? She’s kind of cliché … Is she just me? The relationship between these two characters is too complex for a short story. How am I going to express it in a few pages? Am I making a mistake setting the scene this way? Maybe it should be told from this new character’s point of view. Maybe this story is too important to be the first one I try to write.

That last thought? That’s when I know I have to cut this shit out. Instead of feeling the joy of finally allowing myself to be creative again, instead of affirming my reclaimed identity as a writer, I’m beating myself down, and I’m trying (desperately) to rationalize my fear of being outside my comfort zone as being not ready to be outside my comfort zone.

That is dangerous territory.

Writers write. But also, apprentices learn.

I am a writer, and so are you, if we write. Plain and simple. But if we can’t allow ourselves to write because we’re too busy being wrapped up in all the insecurities we have about being beginners, then maybe we just need to come at it from a different angle.

So I can’t quite feel comfortable claiming being a writer yet. Okay. But I do feel like I can be a pretty decent writer apprentice.

As a writer apprentice, I get to do the work without the pressure. I get to focus on the process of learning to write the stories I want to write, of learning to write the characters that I want to read about.

I went to the library and checked out some short story collections: The Unreal and the Real by Ursula K. Le Guin; Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman; The Best American Mystery Stories of 2016; a couple others. As a writer apprentice, I’m letting myself observe how other writers perform their craft, how they tell their stories, how they convey their characters, how they pace their scenes. It’s okay for me to not know how to do these things yet, because as an apprentice, I’m a professional learner.

As an apprentice, I’m a professional learner.

As a writer apprentice, I get to have the opportunity of gaining experience through practice, of building habits, of experimenting and letting myself try things that, y’know, might not work out how I’d hoped. And as a writer apprentice, that feels more welcome. As a writer apprentice, all the writing I’m doing — even/especially when it feels outside my comfort zone — is just making me a better apprentice. And someday, I’ll be a better writer for it.

Thinking of myself as a writer apprentice allows me to do the work I want and need to do — writing — without getting hung up on those feelings of not knowing enough or being good enough at this yet. If I’m paralyzed by my own ambitions of being a writer, of what I should be creating (or able to create) as a writer, then I don’t even get to start.

So, for now, I’m a writer apprentice. And, for now, that’s good enough.

it's time for women to write the new stories

it’s time for women to write the new stories

It’s Time For Women to Write the New Stories. Written by Jess Davidson. Painting detail from “Orphan Girl at the Cemetery” by Eugene Delacroix

Awakening woman, don’t try to tell me you don’t have something to say about the state of the world. I know you do.

Awakening women have stories to tell. More importantly, we have stories to re-write, for our own good, and for the good of all women. As we go on our own journeys, we begin to see things in a new light, and we begin to know, deeply and with certainty, that many of the narratives that have been written for and about women (mostly by men) aren’t cutting it anymore.

What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.

EugÈne Delacroix

Women need new narratives and new heroines to model the full complexity of the experience of womanhood. We need honest, accurate, and even hopeful reflection of the nature of women and the potential for women.

I wrote my book without a plan. I just decided to begin and see what stories I needed to tell. I didn’t know the plot I was writing at the beginning. I didn’t know the themes or conflicts I was writing. Hell, I didn’t even know my main characters’ names until halfway through.

But as I wrote, I learned a lot about what has clearly been on my heart. I wrote the things I felt it was desperately important to talk about. I wrote about mothers and daughters, I wrote about marriage and partnership, I wrote about stubbornness, fear, wisdom, and surrender. I wrote about women in the midst of their competence, and I wrote about women in the pursuit of something (other than romance).

I wrote a story that I needed to see told.

And I’m going to keep on creating new stories, new narratives, and myths, that I need myself. And someday I hope to share them, because I believe that we all benefit from women telling the truth about womanhood.

Truth lives in fiction. Fiction allows us to tell the truth in ways that are larger than just our individual experience, but which become universal. Fiction reveals us, and fiction can redeem us.

This is a call to every woman who has felt a story pulling on her heart.

What is the work inside of you that you’ve been avoiding? The thing you know you have to create that you have felt unprepared or unable to make? The thing you’ve been afraid to speak into existence, the thing you haven’t felt ready to own up to yet?

What is the creative work that your awakening is calling you to do? What do you know you need to make, to create, to express for womankind?

That creative work is your Real Work. And it’s time you got started.

Let this be the year that you give your heart to your creative work. Don’t let another year go by without writing the words, without telling the stories, without saying what needs to be said, without creating what you wish were in the world.

i wrote a (terrible) novel. it was exactly what i needed.

i wrote a (terrible) novel in november.
and it was exactly what i needed.

In November, I wrote a novel. As part of NaNoWriMo, I wrote over 60,000 words of original fiction. And I was overwhelmed with relief and pride to have done it.

I wrote fiction throughout my childhood and adolescence, but stopped during college. Fiction is my first and great love as a writing form. But after almost a decade away, I was afraid I’d forgotten how to tell stories.

Writing a novella-length story in 30 days is a difficult exercise, but I was reminded of how exhilarating the telling of an original story really is. I started with absolutely no plan - no characters, no plot ideas, no nothing. I just sat down at my keyboard on November 1 and started writing whatever came into my head.

And in the process, I started to learn what had long been on my heart.

For the last two years or so, I’ve felt a call to return to fiction. Throughout my journey of awakening, throughout my years of reading nothing but women’s writing, I’ve felt the urge to write new stories.

Stories of soft and strong women. Fierce and fragile women. Women in their complexity not just as women but as human beings. The things that we have yearned for, the things we have been denied. The things we are now grieving.

The novel is terrible. It has no clear storyline. It weaves and wanders. It saunters and stumbles. It surprised me on more than one occasion, when I would write a whole chapter during a lunch hour and come to a screeching halt at the end and wonder, “Where the hell did that idea come from?”

But storytelling is the great truth-telling. In story, we can speak to the universal through the personal. We can express things through our characters that we may have been afraid of speaking out loud in our real lives.

In the next three months, I have a goal of writing three short stories, one a month. I am writing female-centric stories as a form of reclamation. Because in my stories, women can be everything that women in our world are allowed and expected to be - and more. My characters can be honest. My characters can be true.

It’s my hope to share more about the creative process over these next few months, and I’ll be keeping notes on my experience of creative recovery as I go ahead with this audacious (and life-giving) ambition.

Most of all, I am thrilled to be writing fiction again. Fiction has always had my heart, and always will. I have spent far too long away from it. It is what I have always known I’m really meant to do in this life. It’s my Real Work.

And I can’t not do it anymore.

More to come. x