When I was younger I was a writer. The prose came easily and content generation happened like magic over night. The ideas were hot coals ready to be stoked and everything I came across seemed to stir them up. I was a writer because I wrote, and I never stopped to think whether or not what I was writing was original or valid or culturally sensitive or politically correct because I wrote more than I read, and a steady line of people told me it was good.
Things are so different now. The constant stream of information has put a damper on that once burning writer flame. My thoughts are co-opted by Facebook and Twitter 140 characters at a time. I’ve had editors and teachers show me the ways of the world, and it silenced me because I was unused to criticism, as constructive as it may have been.
When I was younger I was a writer, and I loved travel and I loved reading books about travel. I always wanted to write my own great soul-searching travel epic and I went to all the right places to gather material, but the story hasn’t come to me because the more I traveled, the more I met other travelers who were also writers. They were all so enthused about their own stories and, frankly, their stories sounded much more interesting than any of the ideas I’d been tossing around. It was intimidating to finally meet my peers and come out of the sheltered environment which had fostered so much creativity. The gully washer rush of ideas slowed to a trickle over time and then dried up altogether.
How does this work? Creativity, inspiration, collaboration. What is “the right amount” of outside influence to get ideas coming out of you before they can be stomped down and relegated to the trash heap of unoriginality and played-out thoughts. Feedback is valuable, but is there such a thing as too much? Education and awareness are important, but can you become so immersed in them that you lose your own voice?
I theorize that’s what has happened to me through the steady tutelage of twenty years of social media and exposure to other people’s ideas. People used to have to work hard to hear what others had to say about things. They wrote letters and waited weeks and months for replies. They consumed the rare newspaper or magazine or book voraciously. They traveled long distances to fellowship with other great thinkers and collaborate on new concepts.
By contrast, today I can research fifty topics before noon with a hangover and learn whatever I want to know about, say, orangutan dietary habits and family units with a few clicks of the keyboard. The consumption of media no longer holds value for me because it is so accessible, and I think I feel my own ideas are lumped into that. When I consider what I write swirling in the melee of Google and Facebook, something squeaks in my gut and it works on me until the overwhelming feeling of “what’s the point” takes over and I surrender to another night of Netflix.
I’m trying to change that, though. Trying to adopt new habits and push the noise to background. It’s certainly easier said than done for a content addict like myself. I’ve come up with a few ideas I rarely stick with (Facebook diets? Laughable!) but the awareness of the issue actually has been half the battle. Yeah…cliche as that may be.
I had to decide what I’m about and I’ve decided that I am not here to write another Toes In the Sand travel girl memoir. I am here to uncover that writer I used to be before I got too scared to be her and too disillusioned to bother trying to bring her out. In fact I’d like to revert wholly to that teenage self—that brazen, disdainful, irreverent thing. She was really something, I think, and I admire her don’t give a fuck attitude very much. Her voice, my voice, is valid even if I’m the only one that thinks it is. My stories hold value because they are not anyone else’s, and that’s enough. And even if nobody else ever reads a word I write, I am creating something worthwhile… simply because I am creating. It takes a certain amount of hubris to be a writer, and I think being bold in life is triggering a revival of the confidence I have desperately needed in every way for so very long.