“Those Ugly Voices:” An AROHO Feature with Eliot Sloan, Gift of Freedom Finalist

Eliot SloanI teach creative writing at a girls’ high school. Needless to say, I was nervous when I got the job: how does one really TEACH creative writing? What if I failed, what if they didn’t produce anything? I was consumed by my own fears. Here I was three years ago, my first day, trying to talk to these amazing girls–these girls who were all going to college in a few months, who had won national science awards and basketball championships, who used the word “bildungsroman” without blinking–about the music of language, about muscular verbs and textured metaphors. What if they didn’t take me seriously?  I was in a sweat after the first five minutes.

Then one of the students raised her hand and said, “what if what I write isn’t good?” The room was silent.  And then I realized what I could teach these girls. Fearlessness. Writing, like teaching, is all about letting go of those ugly voices we carry around, those voices that tell us we’re not good enough, we’re posers, we’re stupid. Now, at the start of each term, I make the girls get out of their chairs and “throw” those voices out the door, hurl their arms, yelling, “go away!” Sure, people in the hallway think we’re nuts. Sure, the kids look at me with horror.  But it works, teaching fearlessness. You become a writer by writing.  But first we must forcefully push those voices out the door to leave us alone in our quiet.  Imagine how much time and energy we’d have without having to shush those angry voices all day–those voices that do nothing but frighten and hurt us. That’s what I do as a writing teacher: guard that door so those voices can’t crawl back in, protect my girls so they can feel safe putting pen to paper, which we all know is the most dangerous, beautiful, and intoxicating thing there is.


Eliot Sloan, born and raised in New York City, has degrees in literature and creative writing from Vassar College, The Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College, and The University of Arizona.  She was awarded an AWP Award for Nonfiction and The Bread Loaf School of English Poetry Prize.  Eliot was also a finalist in the JP Morgan/Chase Shipley Award on Diversity, for which her essay, “The Green Room,” was published in Creative Nonfiction and taped live for National Public Radio.  Eliot was a 2005 AROHO Gift of Freedom Finalist.  She teaches Creative Writing in Los Angeles and is working on a book about teaching memoir to teenage girls.

Author: A Room of Her Own

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