Why can’t I seem to get out of my own way?” is the question Cheston Knapp asks in his recent book of autobiographical essays, Up Up Down Down. The question caught my eye in a review of the book in the February 25 Book Review section of The New York Times, by writer and comedian Michael Ian Black.
Knapp’s question is one we can all ask ourselves as we struggle to solve life’s complexities. Our habits of thinking, the places our minds go when nobody is looking, our hardwired perceptions of our own abilities – they all get in the way from time-to-time. But for Knapp, who is struggling to move forward from aspiring reader and writer to literary reader and writer, the question is asked in the context of his writing life.
Like Knapp, I am constantly trying to “get out of my own way” when I write. Instead trusting that how I see something deserves to be taken seriously, and that I am the best person to express what I am feeling and seeing, I find myself struggling with my own insecurity. The voice in my head is saying, “Who do you think you are? Yours is not an authentic voice. When they read what you’ve written they will see that you’re not a ‘real writer.’”
The voice in my head often stops me from sitting down to write at all or changes my writing voice to one that is someone else’s. It suggests that maybe my descriptions need expanding. Perhaps a sprinkling of metaphors would be a good idea. How about searching the thesaurus for more impressive word choices? Valid suggestions all but at some point, perhaps, I should just let my own voice come through. Although not perfect, it is authentic and honest and – mine.
As I consider Knapp’s question, I am paying close attention to what critic Black, managing editor of the Portland Oregon-based literary magazine, Tin House, says.
He advises Knapp to take a deep breath, swallow his insecurities and trust in his already excellent writing voice. In short, drop the question mark and simply get on with getting “out of his own way.”
Sounds like good advice! I think I’ll give it a try myself. JB
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