Do you ever compare yourself to other writers? I’ll admit—I do . . . But it isn’t much fun to lament that I’ll never be as good as so-and-so. Today on Seriously Write, author Rebecca Kanner shares part of her journey to publication. Embrace her encouraging words and go write!
Only You Can Tell Your Story
by Rebecca Kanner
A lot of us struggle with writing. In one of the classes I teach, “Silencing the Inner Critic,” some students have shared that their biggest obstacle to writing is a belief that their stories don’t matter. They compare themselves to others, or wonder what they could have to say that’s worth somebody else’s time.
I’ve struggled with this too. For two years when I was writing my novel and cobbling together a living doing freelance work, some of the people in my life considered me to basically be unemployed. I sometimes felt ashamed that I was spending so much time on my work. But a voice within me was stronger than any of the voices outside, and it told me to write.
When my students mention the names of great writers, names we all know, and ask questions such as Why should I write, I’m not Maya Angelou? I tell them, Just as you can’t tell Maya Angelou’s story (or Madeleine L'Engle’s, or Francine River’s), neither can she tell yours.
This is the message I want to give you: Only you have fully experienced your own struggles. Only you know how you continue to struggle or how you’ve overcome your struggles, or both.
The story I wished to tell in my novel is the story of how some of the things that I thought marked me as ugly or unworthy in some way—my struggles with anxiety, depression and eventually addiction—ended up saving me. In Sinners and the Sea: the Untold Story of Noah’s Wife, I convey this message by giving the narrator a mark upon her forehead that is seen as the mark of a demon. Because of this mark she is considered unmarriageable and her life is very hard. But then along comes Noah, a man who knows the mark is not that of a demon. He looks at what’s beneath the surface of her skin and sees a good woman. Without the narrator’s mark, she would not have been married to Noah, she would have been married to one of the other men her father tried to get for her. Because she ends up being Noah’s wife, she and the sons she has with Noah get to be on the ark. She eventually realizes that her mark has saved her.
Today I’m grateful to my struggles. They’ve brought me to the spiritual place I’m in today. There is an often quoted saying at one of the wonderful recovery meetings my addictions have led me to: God doesn’t make junk. Trust that He has made you perfectly and has given you the voice with which He wants you to speak.
The young heroine in Sinners and the Sea is destined for greatness. Known only as “wife” in the Bible and cursed with a birthmark that many think is the brand of a demon, this unnamed woman—fated to become the mother of all generations after the great flood—lives anew through Rebecca Kanner. The author gives this virtuous woman the perfect voice to make one of the Old Testament’s stories come alive like never before.
Rebecca Kanner holds a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing from Washington University in St. Louis. Her writing has won an Associated Writing Programs Award and a Loft mentorship Award. Her stories have been published in numerous journals including The Kenyon Review and The Cincinnati Review. Her personal essay, “Safety,” is listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2011.
Her first novel, Sinners and the Sea, was published by Howard Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, in April 2013. Rebecca will be featured along with other writers including Michael Cunningham, Russell Banks and Joyce Carol Oates in the upcoming book Truthful Fictions: Conversations with American Biographical Authors. She is a freelance-writer and teaches writing at the Loft in Minneapolis.
Visit her website at www.rebeccakanner.com, like her on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SinnersAndTheSea and follow her on twitter @rebeccakanner.