Writing is food for my soul, and the creative flow that connects me with the brilliant mosaic of life. It is how I make sense of the chaos, put order into the messiness of life, and channel the boundless reams of energy stored up inside my brain.
Writing is a download from the universal computer. I was born to listen to the thoughts and ideas running through my head. Gifts, they are, presented to me at random, in the hope that I will take them and mold them into stories, essays, and the like.
Ideas come to me while walking or driving or standing in line--super-charged ideas for essays, book titles, and screenplays run through my head like a ticker tape. I’ll hear entire paragraphs recited in a steady stream, at least, that is until I get distracted by physical reality, such as having to cross a busy street or place an order for lunch. It’s amazing to me sometimes how much stuff is going on in the background of my life.
Usually, I’m successful at holding this background hyperactivity at bay. It tends to quiet down when it doesn’t think there’s a chance in hell I’ll pay any attention or if I’m in the middle of big work commitment or I’m sick. At those times, it fades into a subtle whisper. However, as soon as I open the gate a little and take a peek, it roars into my life again, bold and dramatic. If I even steal little bits of time to write or submit an essay or two, my writer brain gets excited like a dog waiting to be taken for a walk, and it begins to throw ideas my way, hoping I’ll catch them.
When I open the door to my writing self, like a child, it wants to stay out and play. It is very self-centered, and wants lots of undivided attention, something I’m often in short supply of. Just as I get settled in and comfortably into a rhythm, something in my “real” life interrupts me, taking me away from my writing for long periods of time, making me lose track of what I was doing in the first place.
Returning to the writing after a period of absence takes discipline, though not because I have writer’s block. Far from it. For me, it is because I know the floodgates in my brain will open up, and I won’t be able to catch the ideas fast enough to make use of them. My writer brain is a leaky dyke that I try to fix by jamming the holes with my neglect and refusal to play.
But I don’t ever really quit. I can’t. I need that part of myself as much as it needs me. I’m just learning to juggle stolen time better.
I also love working with new writers. Their innocence astounds me. Fresh faces, hungry for secrets, apologetic, they read their words with shy, tentative voices. "It's really not very good," they say, looking as though they wonder if it's true or whether I'll argue with them. I simply smile and say, "Apologies aren't allowed." They read, and their words emerge from inside the dark closet of their head, like baby birds cracking through eggshells. At first, the words sound harsh and unfamiliar, too loud and too raw. The light is blinding after so much darkness and safety. The relief on their faces once they’re finished reading is palpable. They glow with the pride of having sharing their own words to a room full of total strangers. Like a tour guide, they follow me into the unknown, trusting that I will protect them from harm. Sharing one's work for the first time is akin to walking across a deep chasm on a swaying, rickety bridge. Many feel as though they might fall into the abyss of their own fear and never return. Surviving it, then, is a joyful lift above the clouds of self-doubt, a rush from having made it across—shaky, heart pounding, weak in the knees, but relieved to be standing. I do little except to invite them and coax them to bare their souls—my role as teacher, is kind of safety net rolled out underneath them, ready to catch them if they fall. I, of course, know they'll be fine, but I reassure them anyway, like a mother teaching her child to swim or ride a bike.
It’s a rite of passage for new writers to put a voice to words they've kept to themselves. Silence is abandoned. Dead, flat, lifeless strings of words are brilliantly birthed into existence with sound. A poem or a story, an essay or the chapter of a novel materializes. What was once private now belongs to the world.
The process of writing is what gives meaning to my life. It defines me and helps me to know who I am. It is as much a part of me as my arm or my leg. It connects me to the universal source that connects us all. When I open myself up to the blank page, I open myself to the dawn of a new idea, a unique way of putting words together that is all my own, never experienced before that moment. A connection between the visible and the invisible is made and I become the channel between the two worlds.
It truly is the journey, and not the destination that matters to me both in writing and in life. The process itself is what brings me pleasure; the knowledge that it will be published, while exciting, is secondary.
Books have always been good friends of mine, which is one of the reasons I've always wanted to publish one. I want to return the favor that other writers have done for me. I often say to my writing students when they are feeling discouraged, “Someone wants to read your work as much as you want to write it.” Or I say, “If no one had the courage or confidence to write, the world would be without books.” This usually results in big smiles, because they realize that all books start out as an ideas or creative nudges and they have just as much chance as anyone to get those ideas published. I tell myself the same thing after a trip to a warehouse-sized bookstore,when I wonder if the world needs another book.
The world will always need more books, and writers to write them. Therefore, what right do any of us have to deprive others of what we have to say? To deny the world our books would be selfish and inconsiderate.
So let's get busy and write!