logo

Newest Brief Essays

"Women's Hour, YMCA" featured in Kenyon Review Online

"I Second That Emotion" (craft essay) featured in New Ohio Review

Essays

Other Brief Essays

"Advanced Directive to My Future Roommate…"

"Things Gone the Way of Time," recently reprinted in Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction (Norton)

Essays

Study with Rebecca this summer

Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, June 18-25
APPLY NOW

Kenyon

Kenyon Review PODCAST with Rebecca

(on memoir, genre-crossing, writing practice, and more)

Podcast

Word Painting Revised Edition: The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively

New edition includes over 100 writing exercises for all genres.

Word Painting

The Tribal Knot

Rebecca'a newest nonfiction book, The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change is now available from Indiana University Press and Amazon.

Tribal Knot

On Fear, Rejection, and Persistence in the Writing Life (Part 1)

Excerpted from Write Your Heart Out


If external circumstances wage battle against our writing, they are nothing compared to the war that internal circumstances wage, those demon voices that assault even the most confident writer:

Why spend time writing something that may fail?
Why fill pages with words no one will read?
What if they read my words and hate them?
Why should I even try, when so many brilliantly gifted writers have already said it so well?
I’m too old to start something new.
There aren’t enough hours in the day.
And even if there were, what do I have to say anyway? I’ve never climbed Everest, won an Oscar, divorced a celebrity, spent time in prison, had an affair with a president, survived unspeakable atrocities...
And even if I had, the world doesn’t need another book.
Besides, I have nothing to say.
And no words with which to say the nothing.

One of the quotes I keep above my desk is from Audre Lorde: “It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.” External forces, simply by the fact that they are external, are easier to spot—and, in turn, to vanquish—than the forces that attack us from within. Internal forces never show themselves because they’re not out there, they’re in here—looking out through my eyes, listening with my ears, breathing with my lungs.

On this particular morning, the enemy is Doubt. I can tell by its shallow breathing and whispery hiss. Yesterday it was Competition’s booming baritone; last week it was Regret, with her thin childish whine. There’s a veritable host of enemies out there—or rather, in here—just waiting to occupy the space reserved for writing: fear, despair, insecurity, envy, perfectionism, shame. The list goes on and on. There are powerful forces inside each of us, forces that are capable of silencing us before the first word is written. We don’t have to surrender to them, but we must respect their power. If we don’t, if we refuse to acknowledge their existence, we’ll find ourselves ambushed from within.

Because these enemies dwell inside me, are in fact part of me, I’ll never be able to vanquish them completely. We’ll continue our skirmishes. Some days their forces will get the best of me. Other days I’ll surprise them, turning their own weapons against them. (Just yesterday I located a sharp fear and put it in the hands of a character who successfully sliced his way to the end of the story.) “Okay,” I think, staring down at the blank page or out the blank window or into the blank computer screen. “I know you’re there, I can hear you breathing. Come out come out wherever you are.”

I type one word, then the next. Soon a sentence appears: something, where nothing was before. Sentence by sentence, the page fills. Writing begets more writing. Meaning grows on the page. Because writing is a commitment I have made to myself, I know that eventually the words will return and I will thrive at the desk.

That’s one of the best things about living a writer’s life: There’s always hope for the next piece of writing. When writing is only a tool, a way to get you from here to there, it’s easy to give up when you can’t get from here to there, no matter how hard you try. But when writing becomes your heart, it beats inside you. You and the words are one, writing is your heartbeat, your joy, and yes it can be difficult at times, but still you want to be around it. You want it so badly that you’ll go to the desk to find it—even when you’re afraid to, even when you suspect that trouble awaits you there. Where else will you meet up with the words?