Accepting the Red Pen

When we think of being vulnerable there are so many visualizations and feelings that stir in our stomaches, our minds and hearts. I started reading the book the Artist Way by Julia Cameron and its amazing how in just one week I feel more comfortable with my writing by allowing myself to be vulnerable; opening up and writing about my insecurities or as Julia Cameron would describe it, my “wounded artist”.

One of the writing exercises was to list how your “monster hall of fame” i.e. those who have made you feel insecure as an artist and then to dig deeper by telling one horror story with one of these monsters. I choose to write about my experience meeting with a writing tutor in college and battling against one of my monsters, Cara Gilman:
I slowly walk up the stairs to the writing center conference room. As I enter the room, I take a deep breath in trying to grasp what the next thirty minutes will have in store for me. I always have hated writing, for it has always made me feel so vulnerable. It’s personal, it has to be thoughtful and intelligent, and all grammar and sentence flow has to be perfect. This strive for perfection is something that has always planted its heavy hand on my heart.

I enter the room and in front of me is my writing tutor, her name is Molly. Molly is in my grade and looks very familiar but I can’t remember being formally introduced to her before. Her face is welcoming and her presence is warm and I feel a settling in my stomach that tells me that this will be OK. I’m in good hands. She will accept me and she will like my writing.

We sit down and she begins to review my paper. The atmosphere in the room quickly begins to change. I feel nervous and panicked as she looks over the words I placed on the page. I look at her expression trying to get a sense of what she is thinking. Does she think I’m stupid? Am I a bad writer? Will I ever get better at this? My palms begin to sweat and I frantically look around the room trying to soften my nerves.

Then it begins. The red pen. Red pen is being placed everywhere on the page. Crossing out sentences, writing new ones, circles are drawn around words, entire paragraphs are omitted. My fear has came to life. This paper and my writing is horrendous. How am I ever supposed to rebound from this? I have been completely rejected personally and academically. I’m just as slow and stupid as I was growing up. I can’t spell. I can’t pronounce words and now its official I can’t place sentences together to write a paper.

My frustration with myself begins to escalate further as she explains my poor sentence structure, transition sentences and weak opening paragraph. All of her feedback is constructive and helpful but I can’t get past the way her words stab my sides and sicken me. I can’t help but think about what a failure I am. Why don’t I get this? Why is this so hard for me? I want to give up. I want leave. I hate the way this constructive feedback opens me up and makes me feel so wounded. 

The red pen in this story is a symbol for my monster, me. The red pen represents self doubt, self criticism and fear. Fear that people will not accept me. Fear that I will fail at what I’m doing. Yet, the red pen is only showing me how to improve, how to grow and how to open myself to become stronger. 
Writing this story allowed me to confront my inner monster, the blockage preventing me from allowing myself to grow. As I wrote every word, it was as if I was slowly removing layer after layer of heaviness within me. The heaviness of self doubt and the fear that I would never be good enough. By writing all those words on the paper, I felt cleansed and ready to move on. I became vulnerable.

Becoming vulnerable in whatever we do is such a powerful tool to allow ourselves to grow. Remember to always take your red pen with you and accept every edit with a smile. It will only make you stronger.

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