When I first started writing, I did it mostly so not every thought I had would come directly out of my mouth (according to my mother I should show some self-restraint). I thought if I just wrote it down, I wouldn’t end up in the confessional every week. And so I started to journal and then, in elementary school, entered every writing contest I could (not to brag, but my poems did earn me some pretty big candy bars).

As I got older I fell more and more in love with the written word. I was taken care of by the pages I read; I felt heard, understood. They nurtured the parts of me that were aching for air. My love affair with John Steinbeck, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Irving was scandalous at times. I avoided normal teenage sleeping patterns to spend my nights reading. I withdrew from conversations in class so my mind could be filled by the worlds I hungered for. I wrote down my thoughts and my stories, mimicking the words of the great voices that I surrounded myself with. I filled years of journals with prayers, characters, anger, fears and dreams, never asking anyone to critique my work or offer a selling point or define an audience at which to aim my “message.” I wasn’t worried about editors, agents, query letters—or  God forbid—a  paycheck.

Somewhere in the last year, though, I’ve started to fear losing my voice, my true story. I fear writing only to please those around me. To make a deadline. To not offend anyone. To not share too much information. To take a political stand. To speak in good “Christianize” as to not rock Peter’s boat. To be liberal enough that I gain a larger audience. . . but not too liberal that I alienate those I believe are foundational to my message. This is where I am at right now. Not knowing where I fit in. Or maybe if I even want to fit in. If I continue to strive to be molded by the world around me and not by the voice in my head—the one that made me fall in love with writing in the first place—then what I have become? Who have I become? A writer? Or a puppet?

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I am a writer on good days when a child isn’t puking or screaming or the dog hasn’t run away for the zillionth time or when the house doesn’t look like a Hoarders episode or I didn’t forget to pick up one of the five children from school. I live in the western suburbs of Chicago with my husband who has pushed me to be a better version of myself for sixteen years. I adore my best friends and I get anxiety attacks around anyone pretty or skinny, so I stay in my yoga pants and write about my redemptive story at shelimassie.com.

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  1. Wow Sheli. This is true not just for you but for so many of us as Christian writers. The whole liberal but not too liberal thing is often a wrestling point for me and God. Can I be my true self and not alienate people? Part of the problem is not just fear of being honest, but the truth that I see in my own life: my own viewpoint keeps evolving. To put it on paper, or worse, digitize it, may mean taking a position that may someday, as I grow or learn, change. Writing should be a way to document that journey, not force us to be stuck alongside the road.

  2. “Not knowing where I fit in. Or maybe if I even want to fit in.” Right there with you, Sheli.

    Tim

    P.S. Writing poetry can get you candy bars? Why didn’t someone tell me this sooner?!

  3. I have been ruminating over your sentence, “To be liberal enough that I gain a larger audience. . . but not too liberal that I alienate those I believe are foundational to my message” since I replied last night. I definitely feel caught in between those two spots. In my writing, but also in my day to day communicating. We are part of a seeker-friendly church. Translation: everything said from the front must be nuanced so as to not offend. This policy has heightened my ability to identify with those outside of my subset (a good thing) but also requires me to edit my thoughts, words, teachings repeatedly (not yet sure if this is a good thing). How can I be sensitive to others without over-identifying with what might offend? Let me know when you figure this out!

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