A personal account from a writer’s perspective of the war within each of us.
The Prologue: Why I Stopped Writing
“Just write, one word at a time.”
I tell myself this every day to gain some short-lived inspiration where I can scribble down a few worthwhile sentences into my journal before succumbing to my chronic, wordless stupor for the rest of the day. To be honest I’m amazed I’ve made it this far without slamming my computer shut and walking away in a storm of incoherent cuss words. Sounds stupid, but I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this.
CAUTION- INCOMING UNDERSTATEMENT: WRITING IS HARD.
Writing is hard. It’s almost annoying how difficult it is to stitch one word with other words to form a sentence and even more difficult to stitch those sentences into paragraphs and so on. God, sometimes I hate it! We writers either end up with a clean, tightly sewn laceration of words, or a bloody mess of red ink from the editor’s pen after performing surgery on our malpracticed prose. Needless to say, writing hangs by a thread between life and death.
Yet there are still a few souls brave enough the stand up to the challenge—the true soldiers in the ancient war between the pen and paper. They stare down the battlefield at their enemies—the empty blue lines of their notebook and the menacing blinking cursor at the top of a blank Word document—without fear. Nothing stops them. Writer’s block inspires them, self-doubt drives them, and rejection strengthens them.
Now you’re probably thinking, “Oh great, another inspiring article for discouraged writers.” Don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of boring anyone with advice that’s been repeated for decades. This thing (I’m not sure what to label it yet) I want to shed light on is different for everyone. It can take many forms all relative to the beholder, like an ambiguous abstract painting—the brush strokes are the same, but the impression is creates is unique for each viewer. It’s something we do not inherit with but naturally develops overtime. Born from our mind, it inches slowly into hearts and takes root like a weed.
THE THING I’M TALKING ABOUT: OUR INNER MONSTERS.
This is why I stopped writing. My monster got the better of me.
Writers are miners, digging deep from the two main quarries of their minds for inspiration: imagination and self-identity. Imagination provides the juicy details of a story like descriptions, plot, characters, and setting. For example it’s the source of all the plot twists in Game of Thrones that sends the internet into an uproar of Hordor memes. Self-identity on the other hand is the source of a writer’s voice and how his or her personality permeates through each word. Edgar Allen Poe is a great example of this. His writing style isn’t just dark, it’s disturbing on a level of creepiness beyond that of most writers, revealing his life of heartbreak, depression, and death to the reader.
That’s exactly what I lacked. A voice. And I knew it would take a lot of soul-searching to find. However, mining is risky. You never know what you might dig up while writing, what ideas hide in the shadows of our mind, or what’s waiting to be discovered.
So I started digging. Unlike my imagination which provided an endless supply of ideas with ease, my identity was another story. It was like trying to chip away layers of packed cement with plastic spoon. Obviously, whatever was down in the depths of my soul didn’t want to be disturbed, but I continued to write and claw deeper and deeper until—clank—I hit something. After more monotonous digging, I discovered a bolted metal door with writing etched across the top of its frame:
Listen and Know…
I had no idea what that meant, nor did I care. I was too eager to discover my writer’s voice which now lay only a few steps in front of me. I touched the stainless metal with my hand and instantly the bolts unscrewed and the door opened.
I stepped into a small circular room completely encased in black obsidian. It shined like black glass as I wandered to the center of the room which stood a tall idol also carved from the black rock. Its folded arms and defiant stance resembled that of war general’s: proud, steadfast, and confident. Once I got closer, I quickly realized the statue was me.
It was me, and it wasn’t me. It was taller, buffer, and more proportionate compared to my lanky giraffe-like figure. The obsidian of the idol didn’t sparkle like the rest of the rock in the room in that what reflected from its surface wasn’t light. It was my dreams, desires, goals, and everything I wanted to be: a writer, a traveler, a father, and husband. It was true joy and happiness. It was the perfect image of the life I desired.
Terrifyingly beautiful. As much as I wanted to turn from it, I couldn’t. It demanded attention and praise like an omniscient deity. But then I looked into the idol’s eyes. Harsh, fierce, and blazing with cruelty. Instead of showing me my complete life, I saw something far worse—where I was now and how I far away I was from that utopia I wanted. All my failures, all my mistakes, and all my wrong choices flashed in its eyes and felt like daggers plunging into my heart.
This isn’t it. I thought to myself. This isn’t my voice.
I quickly realized what the idol was and the hidden evil I accidentally stumbled upon. Before I could make a run for the exit, the door slammed shut and the bolts resealed the room. There was no escape from the morphed embodiment of all the self-hatred I’d been burying for years under the pressure from my high expectations and heavy disappointments.
MY MONSTER: PERFECTION
After many years of my soul being trapped serving this monster, nothing I did satisfied it. The binding bitterness of falling short for my new god forced me to kneel and plead for forgiveness constantly. Nothing was enough for Perfection’s relentless demands, no matter how hard I tried. Every time I’d look up in hopes to see at least a smirk of appreciation for my endeavors, the flash in its eyes remained unchanged, glaring down upon my pitiful existence that said it all:
“YOU’ll NEVER MAKE IT.”
“YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH.”
These words became my bible, the holy scriptures I memorized and recited to myself over and over again—”useless, worthless, not good enough.” Eventually I started believing these lies. I lived each day knowing I was worthless in the grand scheme of things and that nothing, nothing on this godforsaken earth would pull me out from the bottomless pit of my hopelessness. I deserved this. This was the beginning of my end.
There was no use in trying to reach something I could never achieve. With the last bit of energy I had after years of draining myself, I turned away from my monster and gave up on my false hopes of a perfect and complete life. I couldn’t take it anymore: the pressure, the stress, the self-contempt. But nothing pushed me away more than the fear of the matter. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of failure. The fear of being imperfect. Fear became my reality.
THE STRANGE THING ABOUT FEAR: IT’S NOT AN IDOL THAT CAN BE WORSHIPED.
Fear is a force of nature that slowly kills. One day at a time, I grew colder, my body stiffened as I shivered in my new abode of nothingness. I leaned against the pedestal of the idol I once worshiped until slumping to the ground in my newfound weakness. My skin cracked, my tears froze, and my body became paralyzed as the newly acquired fear drifted down like snow encasing me in a sheath of ice.
While my inner soul began to freeze to death, everything on the outside started to shut down as well. I stopped writing, I ignored friends, I secluded myself. I basically reacted how anyone would have who had just lost all purpose for living. Nothing.
Now that I was nothing, the numbness slowly set in until I couldn’t feel anything either. The self-hatred, disappointment, and failures didn’t hurt anymore. It was all gone, but so was the happiness I once felt. The joy that used to warm my heart, and the excitement that drove me through life vanished. Gone. But at least I wasn’t hurting anymore. Right?
Very few people knew I was slowly freezing to death inside. Only my closest friends noticed something “off” about me, but even then it wasn’t enough to thaw the ice sinking deeper and deeper into my soul. I carried my dying empty shell each day, pretending to smile and laugh and be the normal “me” everyone knew. It was like wearing a mask and putting on a show for everyone. For a while my performance was Oscar worthy—fake a smile here, laugh over there, get coffee with a friend, go to church— even though I was going through the motions. I’m surprised I lasted as long as I did given the circumstances, but eventually even this became too much. There were days when I couldn’t get out of bed, and even if I did, I would hardly leave my room. I avoided friends and stopped eating. I was barely living.
One day, at my lowest point of my depression and fear, I heard a voice.
Listen and Know…
I remembered seeing those words on the door I opened a few years before, but the voice was different. It was familiar but not familiar enough to mean anything significant, like trying to recall a dream. Over and over the voice whispered, listen and know, listen and know…
Listen for what? What was it trying to tell me? Listen and know what?
Then I heard it, something else from deeper within me.
Soft, lighthearted laughter. A child’s laughter so contagious anyone who heard it would have smirked, as I did, in that moment. After a year of being nothing, frozen and numb, I somehow felt warmer, lighter, almost free from fear’s icy grip. I closed my eyes and focused on nothing but the child’s voice. Listen and know.
Probably around 12 or 13 years old, I thought. Full of life and joy without a care in the world, letting his imagination wander as far as space itself. There was no limit—anything was possible. A child, so young and naive, yet with more promise than the man he’ll become at twice his age, if you can even call me a man…
The boy was me, and his laughter from a nearly forgotten memory.
Unfortunately, the actual memory itself has faded like an old Polaroid photo, but the feelings of everything remain. Summer. Not the pleasant 80 degree, SPF 30, blow-up pool kind of summer but the 100% humidity, fried-lawn, Indiana summer where air conditioners were a must and the ice cream man was every child’s messiah.
My friends and I were gathering props, (i.e. anything we could find outside or around the house like our lawn chairs, a tarp from my friend’s yard, and an old fog machine left in the garage from Halloweens past), for a video of what would be the start of our movie-making hobby. I remember all of us planning out the scenes, delegating who would say what, and laughing as we tried to act serious once we started filming.
We were no longer kids playing games. We were artists molding all of our abstract ideas into something real and our own, no matter how juvenile and silly it looked. What started as a solution to summertime boredom soon turned into an obsession to create, and not only create, but to share these creations with others. I wanted to turn nothing into something just like we turned a couple of lawn chairs, a tarp, and an old fog machine into the corniest, middle-school, lip-sync music video of all time.
To create. To tell stories. To write.
The fear encasing me in ice shattered to the floor like glass. I stood and turned to face the idol I once worshiped. Its eyes remained glaring with its jagged eyebrows and sinister stare. It said the same thing:
“YOU’ll NEVER MAKE IT.”
“YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH.”
The pain seared through me almost paralyzed me as I placed my hands against its cold shoulders. I could see all my failures, the disappointment, playing through my mind like a sped-up movie reel. But this wasn’t me. This wouldn’t define me. This wasn’t my future. This wasn’t my voice.
With a hard shove, the idol fell backward. When it hit the ground, the statue plumed into a silent cloud of black sand. No shattering. No crash. Just a hiss as the shadowy cloud whirled against the walls.
Once the sand settled, I looked across to see what was left. Out of the darkness, a little freckle faced, brown-haired boy, stood silently with that familiar dimple popping grin we shared. He walked to the bolted door and placed his hand on the cold metal. The door followed suite and also dissolved into black sand. Then the boy grabbed my hand and led me back to where I belonged.
The Epilogue: Why I Write Again
Real, authentic writing comes from the heart of the author. We play god in a way, breathing life into the specks of ideas floating in our minds to create new stories, each one resembling a part of who we are.
The words we choose to speak these stories into existence come from the voice within, the identity we choose to listen to and obey. Whether it’s a rigid idol spouting out hateful, deprecating insults or a young boy speaking truth and wisdom, we write from whom we hear. Not only that, we thrive (or suffer) from the voice we truly listen to and respect.
The young boy I subconsciously locked away in my lust for perfection is the voice I write with now. I listen to his words and know who I am despite the lingering scars from my past that threaten to take control of me again. It’s the raging battle between who I truly am and the lies of who I thought I was. It’s the constant struggle between the two halves of myself that stretches and pulls the very fabric of my being. It’s the war with my inner monster that makes me human.
So why do I write again?
I write to listen to that boy. I write to know who I am, where I come from, and why I continue living. I write to be me, the true me.