Today's guest on The Writer's Block is one of my favorite people on the planet. Marshall Pickard is an exceptionally talented writer and a good friend. I have had the privilege of watching him grow from a teenager into a successful adult. Marshall writes with an openness and authenticity that I admire, and I think his article will resonate with many fellow writers. We face rejection on so many levels and it's not always easy to talk about. So thank you for sharing your story with us, Marsh. I truly believe someone out there needed to hear it.
“Can I still call myself I writer, even though I don’t write?” I asked myself, as I noticed my most cherished talent beginning to slip through my fingers.
All I’ve ever wanted to do was write. Oh, and change the world because that’s what idealist religious kids are taught their responsibility is. So in college I started a blog and began sharing publicly the things I was learning in my life and in my faith. I blogged evangelistically, hoping my words would lead other people to think similarly to me.
This desire to be seen and understood is what motivates most writers I know. It sounds narcissistic, but it really isn’t. We want to share publicly what we are experiencing privately because the stories and the ideas present themselves to us, and then they scream until we let them out. Writers process externally: our questions and our experiences and our beliefs spill out of us. We connect the dots we see all around us, and other people call that expression art.
For a long time, I was certain that my writing was a fundamental part of who I am and couldn’t be taken away. Then I was introduced to the most painful year of my life. Among other challenges including my mom’s cancer diagnosis, I experienced a season of confusion and doubt regarding my faith and naively chose to blog about it.
Unfortunately, I was just as evangelical about my religious questions as I was my religious certainty, and people who had only ever supported me started to turn their backs on me. One particular post about social justice incited an onslaught of frenzied comments and concerns.
I kid you not when I say enraged conservatives were literally calling my parents day and night after this post. Folks were sliding into my DMs at all hours demanding that I explain myself. I even received a letter from a family member saying that I was henceforth excommunicated from her life.
It has taken me more than two years to heal and regroup from that horrific year. It wasn’t just that I struggle with receiving criticism. It’s not like this was a professor tearing my essay apart. These were relationships ripped to pieces all because I wrote something that people disagreed with. The sting of that rejection has been a huge hindrance to my creativity ever since.
As the year ended, my words dried up along with my self confidence and ambition. I abandoned my blog and went months without writing anything because it all hurt too much.
I soon moved to a new city and spent months as a barista. With no motivation to pursue my craft, I asked myself, “Can you still call yourself a writer?” Surely I couldn’t. I felt like a deep part of who I was had been stripped from me.
Thankfully, I have since been able to spend some time in therapy, and my therapist helped me get a deeper understanding of the effect these rejections had on me and my art. I see now that those harsh reactions to my blog were so excruciating because I was getting my validation as a writer and human being from the opinions of others.
The criticisms I received hurt so badly because they were echoes of the negative self-talk already reverberating in my head. They were simply confirmation of my feelings of unworthiness. I didn’t think I was valuable enough to put pen to paper or fingers to keys for my own freedom or pleasure: my expression had to be seen and liked by other people to be worth my time.
I had been writing for an audience of faceless people when I should have been writing for myself all along. Of course, this isn’t to say that writers shouldn’t publish their work. I think the ideas that flow through our minds and out through our hands are meant to inspire and shake and challenge the world, but if our art is rooted in a savior complex or a cry for attention, it is doomed from the start.
Being a writer is who I am. It can’t be taken from me, even by me, even if I never write another word. I don’t need anyone’s approval or acceptance for my art to be worth creating. My words don’t have to be seen by other people for them to be worthy.
I still don’t write as frequently as I would like because I’m still working through some of those difficult experiences. But I am finally opening up to self-compassion, and my creativity is finally percolating as a result.
My advice to other young writers is this: you’re a writer no matter what anyone says, so just write. Don’t shame yourself when you don’t write. Just enjoy it when you do. This isn’t a burden: it’s a sacred privilege.
Ultimately you aren’t responsible for changing anyone’s mind. Your sole duty is using the written word to process the idea your soul won’t let you off the hook about. You are only responsible for writing the thing that saves your life, and maybe one day, it will save someone else’s.
Marshall makes his home in Texas with his lovely wife, Caroline and their two cats, Everly and Ezra.
You can follow him on IG https://www.instagram.com/marshalleatonpickard/