Words Have Power and Hold You Hostage

Words have power and hold you hostage. We are most authentic when we say, through our writing, 'This is me, in all my imperfect and flaws.'

In my early twenties, I found words have power and hold you hostage. For a year, a body image wrecking of auditioning for print work, runway shows, and the Indianapolis Colts. Daily I encouraged myself this would be the day. My routine on most days included jumping on a scale, crunching on a slice of buttered bread, and an overabundant of ab workouts. Next, standing in front of the mirror, disliking everything about myself. Reporting to an audition meant curbing the ‘not good enough demons to mustard enough courage to confidently state your name, flash a smile, and twirl while sucking in as many aspects of your body as humanly possible. 

Susan three images face modeling

 “Thank you,” they’d say. “We’ll be in touch.”

Of course, they never call back. I did hear from the Indianapolis Colts I wasn’t what they were looking for (small chest, weak dancer). Still, they offered me the On-Field Marketing Position. Didn’t matter what the reasoning was; all I heard beneath the masks of reasons was that I wasn’t good enough. The modeling agency told me I was too old (26), wasn’t tall enough (5’9), or thin enough (122#). Living in constant insecurity, I dealt with it by doing more crunches, eating less, and making myself blonder. 

Blonde Susan Kiley Modeling

Like many young people, I’d be chosen if I could burn myself into some sort of perfection – a dangerous and often deadly delusion. Truth be told, I was a lousy dancer, too old, and my tits were small. Despite my lack of perfection, I graced the runaways for a bridal show, crochet (it is a thing), and a hair show. Through all my experiences, I was a shell of myself, self-conscious. I wish someone had had the balls to tell me straight, put me out of my misery; I could have found happiness. On some level, I knew I was rolling down the wrong path, trying to squeeze myself into somebody else’s life with all my might.

When I jumped off yet another cliff from a wannabe model to a wannabe entrepreneur novelist like Nicholas Sparks, the rejection and criticism fueled the not-good-enough fire. As many find rejection and criticism in writing as ‘helpful,’ I found another instance where I couldn’t fit into somebody else’s life. I cried when my work was criticized; I stopped speaking to friends for years. I expected it to be okay, not terrible. As a wannabe model, I was overlooked because I didn’t fit. As a writer, my delusions of telling incredible stories is about words fitting on a page. I cried and went into isolation when I sent my stories to editors and received criticism. The prevailing thought of not being good enough swirled above me like a tornado until it finally picked me up and spit me out. I should have taken it as a sign I needed to practice more; hone my craft, instead I quit.

Which was both unfortunate and fortunate because I didn’t begin my writing career as a star in the making, with publishers fighting over my work. I collected an external hard drive of incomplete manuscripts. I completed one novel and never published it. I published several non-fiction and short-romance books that got little attention. They sit collecting dust – because I wasn’t good enough. Had I published my novel and moved beyond the rejection, people would be writing not just about me but about my book. Someday is a coming-of-age romance story about love, heartbreak, and redemption. A beautiful story for the big screen. 

Someday book on a ledge by Susan Kiley

In those days, the more likes you had, the better odds your book would survive, and literary agents would want to work with you. I was living in a small town in Iowa, and opportunities weren’t knocking on my door. I didn’t like the fakeness of obtaining likes. Being on a platform that requires me to engage and interact so often every day just to be desired, so my book would be bought and read. There’s something so ingenuine about social media – yet needed to flourish as a writer. But the negativity took hold of my soul yet again. The word non-visceral brain amongst other smart words used by a journalist. I kept the short and brutal email for years, opening whenever I wanted to start (or finish). A constant reminder I wasn’t good enough, being judged for my writing and my identity. That email became my excuse for not finishing. 

Of course, putting anything out in the world is asking for someone else to judge you – inviting. I’ve spent nearly two decades writing about my mess– my fears, heartache, and joys. I’ve tried to write, sharing pieces of me that will resonate with others, so no one feels alone.

Writers value the opinions of others to assist in improving their writing. The line is crossed when people feel entitled to say whatever they want at someone else’s expense. Think about the constant social media posts – instantly reacting with a like, heart, thumbs up, or providing our unsolicited comments. We have thoughts about everything from my once-look-alike Meg Ryan to Kim Kardashian’s sex tape. People tend not to stop and ask if they’re being kind—especially when celebrities are involved. 

For an introverted writer sitting, stuck in her story, nursing simmering insecurities—all it takes is one impulsive click from someone who knows nothing about me. Instantly the demons of yesterday come barreling into my world. You suck! You’re not good enough. And, just for a moment giving the demons a little too much attention keeps me from writing another word.  

And that’s what happened. 

The first time, four years. The second time, five years. Still trying to figure it out. Does it even matter? Before I start finishing my last book – from five years ago, I do what I know I shouldn’t do; I head to Amazon to read my previous reviews. There are encouraging five-star comments, but my eyes hone in on only the ones that cause me to pause: “you’re not good enough.” But something surprising happens in my reaction: I’m not good enough, and that’s okay. Because something happens as you age. These toxic, hateful people don’t know me and live a terrible life that causes them to harm other people with their words. Nor are their words helping me be a better writer. 

Writing isn’t about them liking me, not anymore, anyway. I’m no longer that scared girl looking at a shell of a reflection in the mirror. I’m just a middle-aged writer surrounded by my evolving thoughts, hoping to connect with one person, struggling to place them onto the screen that makes sense. 

For decades I spent a lot of energy trying to be something to everyone – pleasing, fitting into a shape that didn’t work. I bet we all do this at some point – contort ourselves into squares – rooting from somewhere in our early lives. Somewhere in our early years, someone helped us to believe something needed fixing because something was wrong with us.

We fix our teeth because they aren’t straight. 

We fix our noses because they aren’t perfect. 

We fix the photos we post on social media because they need to be more glamorous. 

Social media is the cruelest of all – causing innocent cruelty – as a mom, my heart breaks. Those injuries, small or large, intentional or not, form our early sense of ourselves. And, if we’ve been taught to understand how to value our own self-worth, it is the only way we can handle criticism and rejection—take what’s useful and shrug off the rest.

We are most authentic when we say, through our writing, ‘This is me, in all my imperfect and flaws.’ As I’ve written this post, I haven’t thought about how it will be received – by the opinions of people who know nothing about the real me. If I stopped for even a moment to care, I wouldn’t have finished – it’s painful, unflattering, and beautiful.  

© 2022 Susan R Kiley