Like I Had No Bones
Like I had no bones, is what it felt like when I opened the earliest reply from a member of my manuscript’s first-read team—like I had no bones and like I was just made of goop, churning about.
I’ve felt like this one other time in my writing life: when I was in Collegeville, MN for the Collegeville Institute’s “Writing to Change the World Workshop” in 2014. I remember sitting around a table of people who had rich experiences, formed thoughts, published words; and I wondered how long it would take for me to be found out. At what point in the workshopping of my pieces will they discover that I am nothing more than unpublished, churning goop?
But when I think about my time in Collegeville, it is a kairos moment where the smells and the faces and the sliding glass door of my week-long-lodging remain crisp memories–formative. I became someone new in that space, and it’s hard not to absorb the details about the spaces in which you become new.
The prayer bowls in the chapel, the books on the shelves, the fire pit . . .
The way my neck splotched when I read my work, how I felt twelve and also like an impostor and also in the right place at the right time . . .
My writing workshop was a vulnerable moment. But vulnerable moments seem to be agents for breakthroughs. At least they have been for me.
In December, I sent my The Way is Where manuscript to twelve different first-read friends throughout the country asking for their honest and loving feedback about the rawest version of the book that anyone would ever see. I pressed send in the hopes that their assessments would help me budge again. I needed a breakthrough for the flow that didn’t feel right and the style problems that I couldn’t put my finger on and the conclusion. Oy, the conclusion . . .
I felt relieved to have even found the hours during this last year to write the content in my notebook that could even be sent in an email. I felt relieved, first; and then I felt nauseated. Like Collegeville. Like I could easily and willingly retreat into a hole for the winter, change my name to Frances, shave my head like Britney Spears did that one time, give up writing entirely and forever. I felt vulnerable.
And then I felt doubly vulnerable when the first response came back (and I’ll feel exponentially more vulnerable when the next eleven do, I’m sure, when I’ll likely need to take a day off of work just to lick my wounds and watch mindless TV). But I also—and I was so surprised by this—felt so grateful.
Hopeful, grateful, rich in people, energized.
Spurred on. Broken-through. Almost so much so that it came close to masking the sick feeling that accompanied exposure and critique. Maybe it did mask them.
I feel ready to write in this file of words again, ready to dive back in and cull and craft—what a gift. And I can’t stop thinking about how this is reminding me of what comes when we share our unfinished selves in safe spaces.
Vulnerability is excruciating, but it brings the break-throughs. When I take the things by which I am stumped and in which I am stuck to people who will be honest and loving, it’s like climbing up on an open-heart-surgery table and a launching pad at the same time.
I’ll never shake how goopy I felt in the roundtable at Collegeville. But I’ll also never be able to un-know the person I became after—namely, writer who knows she’s writer. This gives me hope as I open my emails and melt into boneless mush all over again. A break-through is coming, that’s the pattern. Well, that’s the hope.
Here’s to January and vulnerability—to thinking on what has us stuck and who will honestly and lovingly turn our holding patterns into wound-licking and wound-licking into newness.
It’s a good time for newness.
[Writing friends looking for breakthroughs and growth, please check out the upcoming workshops that Collegeville Institute is hosting! I cannot recommend them enough. Plus, it’s all-expense paid and is quality in all the ways.]