I lead a private Facebook group of about twenty people who have all committed to finishing some sort of writing project in a year. It’s interesting to watch them both write and not write. They joined the group, I assume, because they were not writing in a way that pleased them. They wanted to finish something and they figured a financial commitment paired with community and my cheerleading talents would help get them to their goal of I finally actually did it.
I love many things about this group. I love their spirit, their determination, their heart. I love their sense of humor and their ability to fall in and out of despair. I love to watch how they support each other, how quickly they are to heart and thoughtfully respond to a fellow writer’s comment.
I love listening to their reasons why they do not write. It’s like listening to the reasons a person who has to get home decides to sit in the middle of the road. They are resting. There are no cars coming. They had to stop to think. Their shoes got too heavy. Sometimes a body needs to sit in the middle of the road and take a break. Sometimes a body needs to get up and get home because dinner is on the table and it's time to eat, time to get things done, time to finish.
I especially love this is not a college class and that I do not have to offer critiques or give grades. When I looked back at why I was not able to write a book for thirty years, I realized the main reason was that I almost always wrote for praise. As soon as I wrote a sentence, I was ready to hand it off to someone else to hear what he or she thought. I wanted to hear how smart I was, how clever, how creative. Most of all I wanted to hear that I was a good person, worthy of my place here on Earth.
I cared more about what other people said than what I said.
And therein was the problem. I wasn’t hearing myself. I was listening for the response, not the call. I was so busy focusing on the world around me I missed hearing my own voice.
I developed an exercise in my Write or Die classes where you imagine you have five minutes left to live and you have the sweetest presence by you—I picture it as an ear—something that can’t talk; something that just listens. It’s that voice, the voice I use to talk to that ear that is the voice of my soul, the voice of my spine, the voice of me. I have nothing left to lose when I use that voice. I am not speaking to win love. I am speaking to leave a handprint on the wall of the cave before I leave this mortal coil.
For the first year I did Write or Die classes, over and over again when I did this exercise along with the participants I wrote, I’m sorry. This surprised me: to whom was I apologizing and for what? As I did this time after time I realized I felt like a flower who had not fully bloomed and I was apologizing to my creator for not doing my job, for not showing up fully to the sun.
So I called bullshit on myself and just busted out into flower.
What does that look like?
It looks like me, lying here on the couch, writing this to you. It looks like me out walking the Dish in Palo Alto this morning, listening to Haley Radke interview her husband on her podcast Adoptees On. It looks like me at Whole Foods afterwards, smiling as I piled food into my basket because I had enough money to buy anything I wanted. Blooming is so simple. You just do you.
And that is the same with writing.
And that is also why I don’t really care what you are writing. I just care that you write--the same way I don’t care what you say when you pray--I just care that you do write, that you do pray. Why?
Because I love language.
Because I love this world.
Because I love you, and I have a deep hunger to learn about your life, your vision, your inner heart.
Years ago my daughter asked me to sign my notes to her with twelve x’s because I routinely sign off to people I barely know with x’s and o’s. She wants to see that she is special, I assume, that I love her more than I love someone whose last name I do not know.
And she is, and I do.
And I love writing all those x’s to her, every time we text. There are the times I send out four x’s by mistake and quickly, quickly, type a line of twelve more and send them to her. I love you most, I am typing. I x you most of all.
Every time I pound out an x, I am reminding myself and my daughter and the world that I am committed to my heart and to her. I am writing to her, praying to her.
I love you.
The people in my writing group do not have to write. They can spend the year doing other things. They can deal with the challenges life throws at them and do the dishes and get some sleep.
But here's the thing: they joined the group because they want to write.
I think one of the scariest things about wanting to write is the realization that you aren't that special. That writing doesn't make you shine or make you better. It's just a way of sweating, but with words.
This realization is heartbreaking. Why bother to write at all if it doesn't elevate you to a higher status than your neighbor? Why even try if you are bound to fail since language is a poor tool to recreate life.
Because if you want to write, you need to, just the way if you need to breathe, it's time to inhale. It's not complicated. Writing is something we do to process and praise, to be fully alive.
If you are struggling with writing, be a child. Write one word at a time. Don't even worry about sentences or sense. Start there if you feel you can't do what you most want: express yourself in a beautiful way. When my daughter was a child and she would bring me her drawings, I never critiqued them, never offered advice about how to make two arms the same length. Mostly I got teary-eyed and wanted to run to the frame shop. They were all so perfect. Every one. Every time.
Do you remember that moment in the movie American Beauty when Wes Bentley's character was talking about how he could barely stand watching the plastic bag float off on the breeze because it was so beautiful to him? That's how I feel when I hear people say they want to write. It means every moment for them will have the potential to be even more meaningful, even more gorgeous. It means that even garbage will take on a light that just may leave them breathless.