Being a writer is like breathing. It brings with it life, clarity, and fuel for the vessel carrying the soul through The Journey.
Learning to write, on the other hand, is like learning to ride a bike. Except that this particular bike is extra jerky, producing constantly-shifting aerodynamics making the rider’s body contort in ways it never experienced. It’s like learning to ride a bike with wheels that are alive and that keep growing and needing more food and nice compliments. The rider becomes a lifelong novice, while simultaneously gains mastery over things she didn’t know existed. And, oh yea, the bike is actually a shape-shifting alien that lives off stand-up comedy and See’s candies. Go figure.
I’m still unsure when this part of my identity went from “someone learning how to write” to “learning how to be a writer” to “I need to write before I implode with the overripe seeds of feeling”. And, from what I know now, this amorphous flow of the writer’s dilemma speaks the truth of who I am better than the lightly-etched placard on a plastic trophy.
But let me think about the actual ingredients of good writing. Hmm. It’s hard to think about the ingredients of a cuisine that I haven’t quite tasted yet. I’m sure I’ve had samples of it – imperfect iterations of an exotic dish – but these literary hor d’oeuvres tend to spike my cravings more than they satiate them. ‘Cuz I really can’t say I’ve actually been content with anything I’ve ever expressed.
Part of this is my incurable griping and quibbling and groaning. Another part is my lifelong call to understand the wounds I’ve conveniently inherited through my lineage. Still, another part is the voice that periodically/always tells me I have to do better. And the remaining parts? I suppose they’ll always remain a mystery, the masochistic paradox we call the creative process.
I often find myself staring at a pile of regurgitated words right after polishing the script to the point of good enough. This is the moment right before the message becomes too blaring and shiny – the fraction of the second before what I say becomes over-microwaved or lifeless. But I don’t always time this right. Which is why my voice gets me in trouble sometimes.
The proverbial jaw that sputters these words always points back to the person wielding the pen. The real person, the one orchestrating the silent-yet-very-audible soliloquy laced with self-deprecating undertones that must somehow make contact with the sobering grips of the outer world. You know, like, getting others to understand you. The real you.
Umm, how exactly do we do that again?
So then, I ask, what does that part of me need? What is it that my inner child currently craves? But before I go down this rabbit hole, I have to remind myself that there’s a fine yet clear distinction between childlike and child-ish. It’s the difference between indulging in a senseless bounty of candy, or being in awe of the one special lollipop ordained to fill my grumbling tummy.
So I ask again, What do I need to be able to write with any meaning?
For one, I need space. Emotional and mental space. And for that, I must protect my time and energy. With this comes clarity. With clarity comes a renewed mind, with which I can dust off the little particles time and time again and file away the important stuff into accessible piles of organized clutter. This gives me the feeling of expansiveness, of psychological freedom. The spontaneous combustion of inspiration is now more than likely to happen. Without this, the spirit of God remains far and holstered away.
To create and keep this space I must also have separation. This is weird to say because I often think writing makes me feel more connected. But the separation I’m talking about is less about disconnecting and more about expanding. It’s about ballooning the inner container and adding more acres to my mind and heart’s real estate than it is about creating permanent distance. Some call this mindfulness, which is just saying there’s a slight time difference between what I feel, what I observe that feeling to be, and what I ultimately do about that feeling.
And what does this feel like in my body? Emptiness. The good kind. Like when I ingest helium, I’m sucking in something thinner than air but substantial enough to fill my lungs. It’s the kind of emptiness that comes from an open, healed, ultra-plush heart.
To be a better writer I also need time. Similar to space, it requires emptiness. Dissimilar to space, the emptiness is actually a controlled void full of potential and life. It is a formless yet well defined window of opportunity. Time is less about hours in a day than it is about moments of real connection, joy, devotion. Having time means having enough courage to go slow and notice the parts of me that haven’t been nurtured in a while. Having time means knowing that all is well and will be complete, even when the clock is screaming at me.
To be a better writer I must live better. To live better I must learn to give away the things most precious to me: unconditional acceptance, freedom, being “right”, laughter. To live better I must play better, do a subterranean scuba dive into the highest and lowest points of the treehouse jungle gym, finding layers upon layers of meaning and sublimity. (But only after navigating its treacherous design).
To be a better writer I need friction. From the right amount of friction springs the nectar that fuels my play. There are two kinds. On one end is the primal, survival impulse producing the gritty screech of mania and heart palpitations. My back is against the wall, or I’m desperately doggy-paddling to steal one more breath to nourish my deprived lungs. On the other end exists the upper echelon of human potential – the realm of inspiration, the brief moment of bliss and singularity. I somehow need to strike within the window between these two ends. Too much friction, and the movement stops altogether. Too little of it, and I wander aimlessly, comfortably uninspired, waiting for enough resistance to build up again so I can properly ground and move with intention.
To be a better writer I must tell the truth. To tell the truth I must learn, again and again, that I’m not God, but that I am a live reflection, that I’m nobody in particular and also the exact person someone else might need in a given moment. So I slowly, day by day, remove the fear of not being well-received. Remove the fear of stirring the pot. The fear of being the contrarian that I sometimes have to be.
Telling the truth requires a special type of courage – one that appreciates the risk of the unknown while traveling with this pocket-sized anxiety perfectly wrapped and tucked away. It understands that there’s no way to truly decipher how anyone will respond to me, knowing that each person’s perspective is shaped by unfathomably unique experiences informing an infinite variety of potential consequences. It reminds me that words are never perfect, and that their translation is subject to human limits – a process that can never fully be pure. All I can do, in the end, is mean what I say and say what I mean.
Easier said than said?
To be a better writer I must pay attention. To pay attention I learn to be a good observer. To observe well I must listen, not just with ears but with openness of heart. I carefully oscillate between the molecular details and the cosmic panorama. I listen for instruction and follow its lead.
To be a better writer I have to feel safe enough to be vulnerable. How can I sing with a closed mouth, much less a closed soul? A silly song that would be.
To be a better writer I must be inspired. But inspiration is not something I begrudgingly wait for. The spontaneous spark of motivation, though incredible, is seldom and sparse. To reach a state of inspiration in a consistent way requires discipline, consistency, and surrender. From this place lies the freedom to explore, the power of conviction, the greater faith that takes over when I don’t feel particularly capable. It is the quiet sense that I am being carried – not against my will or desire – but in the exact direction of it, in consonance, in a collaborative co-creation of life and the unknown.
Finally, to be a better writer I must know the difference between knowledge and wisdom. I must know how to do, when to do, and why I do what I do or don’t do – the rhythm, the intensity, the cadence of how it wants to surface. I listen for the way it wants to be expressed, the way in which it wants to be carried through the very presence of my being, the way in which it is the only way, the way in which…