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by Louise McKay

It’s hard to write.

After working for Hedgebrook for nearly six years, I’ve come to realize that in fact it’s hard for everyone—even writers—especially writers.

I’ve been writing in one form or another my whole life: as a student, as a dramaturg, as an academic, as a teacher, and now for Hedgebrook. And yet, I’d never call myself a writer. Writing is a process, an action, but it’s also an identity. It’s a name that invokes power. The writing I’ve done has always been “in service of” something else. I wrote for assignments, for program notes, for critical analysis, for marketing. For me, writing was a means to an end, but “real” writers write because they have something to say.

And that’s where it gets hard for me. It’s embarrassingly difficult for me to access my own voice.

When did this happen? When I think back to my childhood, I was a smart, precocious little girl who wanted to be heard. I spoke up. I spoke out. I raised my hand and volunteered to be the center of attention. I wasn’t always right, but I was confident, and I knew I wanted to be a part of the conversation.

Somewhere along the way I learned, like so many of us do, that if I held back I would be better liked. I learned that speaking up was associated with arrogance and self-righteousness. I learned that it was embarrassing to be wrong, to make mistakes publicly. I learned to protect myself from criticism by remaining silent.

The benefit of all of this is that by holding back, I also learned to listen. I learned to hear and consider others’ opinions before contributing my own. I learned to find value in silence and reflection.

Over the past year or two here has been a cultural conversation bubbling up around gender and representation. There is an omnipresent question of who is heard and who is not simmering in the background of our public discourse. What are the stories we’re not hearing? Where are the voices that have been silenced? As a white,  hetero-normative, middle class woman in America today, I’m fortunate that my silence is largely self-imposed. I’ve been listening. I’ve been reading and processing and I’ll keep doing so. But maybe I also have something to say. I’m trying to fight past the impulse to protect myself and channel that little girl who knew she wanted to be a part of the conversation.

At Hedgebrook, one of the things we hear most from women about the impact of a residency is that “now I can call myself a writer.” It’s powerful stuff. It’s a claiming of the power that comes with finding your own voice. I’m not there yet, but perhaps now I can at least say I write. I am writing.

 

10560561_10152589083434419_5404984557265958660_oM. Louise McKay is currently the Director of External Relations at Hedgebrook, overseeing a crack team of marketing and fundraising divas in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. Louise is a former educator, consultant, and coach with a practical and academic background in the performing arts and nonprofit management. In her free time, she wrangles a house full of boys (toddler, teenager, and spouse) and one very patient cat in North Seattle.

 

 

 

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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

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1 Comment

  • Pearl Klein
    12:35 PM - 31 July, 2014

    As a writer who spends a lot of time in silence and a lot of other time channeling others’ voices, I see a fair amount of myself in this. Thank you for claiming your right to write. (You could even make it into a rite!) There was a period when I thought I didn’t need to write because there were already so many people so good at it and who would care what I had to say and what made me think I had anything to say anyway?

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