Written by Eleana Norton
For as long as I’ve had a bucket list, the first item on it has been to write a poetry book. This goal felt as realistic as the second item: to go skydiving.
In other words, the perfectionist in me didn’t think I would be ready to publish any time soon. I assumed I would need to master my craft before sharing it.
I didn’t believe my poetry was good enough to withstand serious criticism. So when I did share little snippets, I hoped other people wouldn’t take it too seriously. My name on instagram was “i wRiTe pOEtrY” so I would seem aware of the fact that I thought posting poetry was dramatic and cringy.
But the truth was, my writing did mean a lot to me. And I wanted it to resonate with others too.
Eventually, I had to realize it wasn’t really about me. A friend of mine encouraged me: “Jesus gave you a gift, so it serves him when you share it.” She reminded me that just as he asks me to use my time and finances for others, my gifts are something to hold open-handedly too.
When my classes ended during a study-abroad semester in France, I found myself without school and a job for a little over a month. It was the first time I’ve had so much free time since I was thirteen years old. So I finally committed to writing and publishing my poetry collection.
I started carrying my notebook with me whenever I left the house, and became a frequent visitor to a couple local cafés. I compiled all the poems I wanted to use in a document on Canva. Then, I found common themes in my writing, and decided which ones to focus on: childhood, womanhood, and joy.
More importantly, I also told every friend I encountered about this project. I hoped this would make it too embarrassing for me to quit. It worked well, because it pushed me to write more consistently, rather than only when I felt like it.
I wrote for my new exchange friends, to put into words how thankful I was for our unique relationship.
I wrote to make my siblings back home proud.
I wrote to give my dad an opportunity to illustrate.
Suddenly, I was writing for all the people with whom I had shared this passion project.
I was met with unwavering support. I had friends who would accompany me to cafés and work alongside me, sharing in my excitement when I got a poem “just right.”
Others lent an ear when I wanted to work through a troublesome section. They were eager to hear all my updates, even the minor ones.
My community made me feel that I couldn’t fail. They believed in me and my work. I knew I would make them proud, whether I became a bestselling author or sold 10 copies. The confident voices of my community spoke louder than the fearful voice of my self-doubt.
Podcast Minisode: Let us practice the discipline of community
When it came to writing new poems, I felt graced by inspiration. Grace sometimes looks like sudden inspiration on a walk or on the subway. But there are also times where it looks like discipline. I would sit down, take out a notebook, and trust that inspiration would come.
It felt a bit like improv dancing. When I sat down to write, I often didn’t have a clue what I wanted to say, in the same way I don’t know the next steps when I’m dancing. When the fear of not being a good-enough writer came back, a friend of mine encouraged me: “You make words dance like you dance for God. Exhale what God has breathed into you.”
Blank pages are intimidating. But in this discipline, I trusted that God’s Spirit would carry me to the next verse, like music.
Through this process, I learned that there is no sense in waiting to master a skill. To wait for my fear of failing to simply subside would be to wait a lifetime. My writing is bound to improve, but that’s not to say my current work isn’t worth sharing.
The reason I could surrender my perfectionism was because Jesus leaves space for fear and failure. I felt so empowered by the security found in my relationship with him. No fear is insurmountable with him. No failure will affect his love for me.
Writing was only the beginning though. In the following months, I slowly ventured through the publishing process. I submitted to small publishing companies. I also began investigating self-publishing, which was the path I ultimately pursued.
During this time, many people were reading my work for the sake of editing or publishing. I became afraid that I was sharing too much. The doubt made me consider taking out entire sections of my manuscript.
In particular, I felt very exposed by opening up about my loneliness in singleness. Sharing with strangers felt okay. Sharing my fears and heartaches with friends did not. I didn’t want my parents to worry. I didn’t want my friends to think I was more unhappy than I appeared. I didn’t want their image of me—content and single-by-choice—to change.
Fortunately, my editor helped me to see that my strength as a writer comes from my vulnerability. She had the most praise for the poems where I really dug deep into those uncomfortable emotions that I try to hide.
Read more: God meets us in hard emotions
In fact, this strength applies to far more than just writing. I am often reminded of 2 Corinthians 2:19, where Paul comments on what Jesus said to him:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
My weaknesses have allowed others to feel seen, and less alone. I am more confident than ever that there is purpose in my pain and loneliness.
A year before publishing, I didn’t know I would write a book. Ten months before, I considered the risk of failure too big to overcome. Six months before, I had a manuscript, but was questioning its purpose. Today, I’m the self-published author of Little Dancers.
Perfect love from God—reflected by my community—casts out the fear of failure. And God’s grace transforms my vulnerability into strength.
Eleana Norton is a French and education student at York University’s Glendon College. She loves to teach, write, dance, and spend time with people. You can find her first book of poetry at Indigo.
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