“It almost paralyzes you. This fear of writing.”
My therapist made this observation at the end of this past summer as I explained why I was scared to return to school and really confront the thesis I had been avoiding for months. While I’ve already written a bit about how scary writing can feel, the stakes feel much higher now that I have to turn in a full project in just over four months. This thesis feels like more than just a project to wrap up my college career. I see it as a test-run to get an idea of whether or not I would be able to handle graduate school.
I’ve developed a more serious relationship with writing since I left STEM a little over two years ago. My view of writing shifted in my head as it became a part of my career — feeling more real as I felt more power in what I could put down on paper. However, with that empowerment through writing comes more pressure to produce engaged scholarship, and more pressure to produce coherent arguments that I can defend.
Advisors have pointed out the insecurity that comes across in my writing when it appears I am not even convinced myself by what I’m saying. I’ve been encouraged to take pride in my work when I’m advised to keep on writing or get positive feedback on my articles. But I still have a hard time making it stick. It still takes an active effort to remind myself I should feel proud of my work.
I think about the way the fear paralyzes me every time I write something I know will be public. I think about it every time I write a new piece. I am thinking about it as I write this one. I worry people won’t like it. I worry I’ll accidentally say something wrong or that I’ll realize I’m actually not that good. After all, I’m the same insecure immigrant child who thought she wasn’t smart when her friends with college-educated parents used words she couldn’t understand.
Most importantly, I fear I won’t do my communities justice. I fear this Harvard name has distanced me from my people as I recognize the past — and current — harm academics from elite institutions have committed in studying our communities. I worry my work won’t be accessible, reproducing the same college-educated language I wasn’t able to understand before coming here.
But then I am reminded of my position within this institution. I am reminded that my work won’t be taken seriously and that I will have to fight for it to be heard. I am reminded of the hateful comments I’ve received on my pieces in the past, which I expect to continue scrolling past.
I remember why I am writing. I remember why it’s so important to have people like me doing research and becoming professors for future students to see themselves represented in ways I haven’t seen myself represented enough.
The quote in my byline above comes from Gloria Anzaldúa’s letter to third-world women writers. She reminds me that we have a harder time feeling confident in our writing while white men write carefreely and neglect to acknowledge our work, passing us up as academics and experts in our own fields. By reading her work, my fear of writing makes more sense to me. It assures me that writers’ blocks are normal and that it does not mean we should give up or that we’re not good enough.
As I struggle to reconcile my position as an outsider within, I hope I can do my communities justice with the opportunities I have access to at this institution. Anzaldúa’s work reminds me that we should be the ones in charge of our narratives and our scholarship. We are not imposters in our writing. We can and should be more than just the subjects of our academic fields.
Laura S. Veira-Ramirez ’20, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a joint concentrator in History and Literature and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.