I am feeling inspired by something my friend Carly posted on her blog recently. A published and award-winning writer, in this beautiful and thoughtful piece she examines why and how she writes. Like many people with an artistic or creative streak, I sometimes feel that choosing to write isn’t actually a choice. It’s something that needs to happen, a force greater than oneself. It is something that can be denied, suppressed, and forgotten about….for a while. But it will never, ever disappear.
I suppose that for me the writing seed was planted at a young age – I am that cliched introverted, shy, sensitive child who was always observing, trying to figure things out. I read a lot and I wanted to copy what I was reading, so I wrote poems and short stories about my pets and toys. I have a very vivid imagination and think visually, so writing came easily to me. Add to that potent mix some teachers who praised my writing and told me I would be an author when I grew up. As I grew older, I wrote mostly academic things for school and university and the praise still came. I’ve had a few paid writing gigs over the years and the accolates and the money came. But by choice, I now write solely for myself and find my income elsewhere.
So why write? Because writing is a way of processing the world, of making sense of my experience. As the venerable Joan Didion once said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” And it gives life meaning – it’s a method of making life’s lemons into lemonade. If art can come from tragedy, heartbreak, betrayal, hardship, death, then maybe that experience has more value. And through writing, one can also revel in the beauty of the world, to not only lament its sorrows, but celebrate its joys.
And then there’s the unpredictable, mysterious journey of writing. It’s one of the few things that puts me in a state of flow, in the zone where the conscious mind is seduced by the subconscious. Where you start at one place with no idea of where you’ll end up, but with a knowing that where you do end up is where you need to be. Things emerge that you couldn’t understand or figure out with your conscious mind. Answers are found. There is a sacredness in that experience. It is mystical and magical, and brings one back into one’s self, a kind of mental yoga.
Writing is also a way of recording one’s own development. Looking back at things I wrote in my journal 15 years ago, I laugh at the silly things I was upset or obsessed about. And I hope that the things I vomit-write into my journal now I can look back on in years to come and see how far I have come and how far I still have to go. Documenting this journey through words is a way to understand the peaks and the valleys, a way of connecting the dots.
Perhaps most importantly, writing is a way of learning (and practicing) that the destination is the journey, that the act of writing is its own reward. That, to borrow an Anne Lamott quote mentioned by Carly, writing is “like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony.”