Holding back


“The way you write…. It feels like there’s something more there. It feels like you’re holding back,” my mom said. The connection was silent for a long moment as I considered those last words.

I was defensive, which I took to be a sign that she was right. At least partly so. Most likely completely so.

“I’m not sure if it’s holding back,” I tried, “I think it’s distractions more than anything else. My thoughts are too scattered to really focus and write exactly what I’m thinking.”

Even as I said it I knew my reasoning was only partly true. I am busy and distracted—by work mostly. Also by my family and other projects and priorities. And I should be distracted by work (food, water, shelter and all that) and by my family (love, companionship, fulfillment, and so much more); it’s those “other projects and priorities” that hold the rest of the truth. The hard question for me is this: do I pursue those unnecessary distractions because writing isn’t important to me or because I’m afraid to fully invest myself? Why, precisely, am I holding back?

Assuming that writing is important to me, is it fear of criticism or rejection that prevents me from writing without reservation? Is that why I’m creating convenient roadblocks?

Assuming that writing is not important to me, why am I spending so much time thinking about it and writing about it? (Ha! Writing about instead of just bloody writing. The typical philosopher’s dilemma: too much armchair.)

As I write this my mind and my heart both tell me the answer is A: I’m deeply invested in writing but afraid of devoting myself to it. So I hold back because that feels safe—when I should be putting myself out there, testing my limits, pushing myself to be better, especially because failure at this time is so cheap. My livelihood isn’t tied to my writing. The only negative consequence of poor output would be a lack of interest from others, which is actually the best indicator that I’m not writing in the most compelling way. Which means more practice. Every day, really.

And no holding back.


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