‘Don’t be a writer, be writing’ — William Faulkner
I’m not a writer. I never clicked with English at school. Studying for exams felt I was forcing myself into an unnatural state of being. English Language, English Literature; it all felt alien to me. Then, 18 months ago, something changed.
2014 was an intense year. Every part of my life seemed to be crumbling to dust around me, challenging me to rebuild it if I could muster up the energy. Everything I thought I knew about love, relationships, work, friendship, happiness proved to be naïve at best, down right foolish at worst. I was using every last breath franticly treading water, trying to keep afloat in a life I no longer recognised. I remember being emotionally exhausted constantly trying to find my feet and stay still long enough to catch my breath. I was in the middle of a storm, powerless, being tossed and turned at the whim of the world. I was lost.
I struggle to this day to define and describe completely what was happening in my mind. My current understanding is that I was feeling the complete and utter anguish of trying to desperately escape the present moment I was in. I was consumed by wanting to either trying to reach back into the past to calmer, happier times or to press fast forward and trying to erase and forget everything I was feeling and skip forward to some future bliss.
I sunk heavily into numbness, apathy, the sweet murkiness of giving up. Until one day, from under a blanket cocoon I opened up a blank word document and began to type. These are some of the things I’ve learnt so far from doing so.
There is always something left to try
Even when I thought I had hit rock bottom and I had tried everything, I was wrong. You might not think it at the time, but you have infinite resources within yourself to survive and even thrive in this world. I don’t have a one size fits all plan to access these resources, but for me it tends to be a balance between more patience, so, so much more patience, finding other people’s stories so you know that you are not alone, never, ever even contemplating giving up, finding a way to release my feelings in a creative and not destructive way and re-connecting with myself. These philosophies manifest in many different ways. Sometimes I write to feel creative, meditate to re-connect with my mind and body, read/watch/talk to someone to remind myself my experiences aren’t uniquely awful. Most importantly I’m learning to just do something. Worst is always letting the thoughts consume me. Doing something, keeping moving, however tiny the act, is empowering and the first step to making change.
Writing creates a concrete expression of your experiences
For months, before I’d started to write, it felt like I had lost all control of my emotional stability and ability to make sense of the world. The fiercest joy, excitement, anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness would crash into me unexpectedly like a monster wave and I’d have no time or processes to understand it. I couldn’t explain what was happening so I couldn’t talk to anyone and just lived through it. As soon as I started to write though, it forced me to first become aware of and acknowledge what I was feeling and then find the words, metaphors, labels, descriptions to describe it. I had to crystalize my experience into coherent structures which helped me finally begin to recognise and comprehend it all, laid the foundations for me to begin to talk to those around me and recognise my experiences in the stories of others.
Writing is art, art is important
I used to really struggle with defining what art is and what it isn’t. Until I read Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, a transformative book in its entirety which defines it like this:
‘When artists work well, they connect people to themselves, and they stitch people to one another, through this shared experience of a connection that wasn’t visible before. Have you ever noticed that this looks like this? And with the same delight as we took as children in seeing a face in a cloud, grown up artists draw the lines between the bigger dots of grown up lives; sex, love, vanity, violence, illness, death’.
Writing connected me back to myself. I don’t consider myself to be a great writer yet, but I will continue to write and share what I write to attempt to connect up the big dots in my own life as well as those in the lives of those around me. As I meander through my life I’m finding the process of having an experience, being aware of the experience in the moment, fully accepting it, trying to process and understand it, translating it, communicating and sharing it and then connecting with the world through that, creates endless curiosity and brings me fulfilment that I never imagined possible.
Shane Koyczan’s spoken word explains what I mean so beautifully here (gets me in the feels every time *sob*) :
‘If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces’ — Shane Koyczan
The pen is mightier than the sword
Phew. I’m still a little bit in tears after watching the video above again. If you’ve skipped it go back and watch it. I insist.
Writing, I’m learning is one of the most powerful tools we have to shape and change ourselves and the world we live in. Its versatility, universality and permanence make it uniquely able to connect us to ourselves and to each other across space and time.
Ok. So now I’m coming to know that writing makes sense to me, its important and I want to continue to use it to shape and connect with the world around me throughout my life. How exactly? There are hundreds of ways, but here are some of the many ways I’ve stumbled upon and continue to experiment with daily.
- This blog — connecting with you wonderful people out there about what I learn as I live makes me happy and it forces me to try and find what is useful and what I’m learning in every experience, positive or negative
- Morning pages — Getting it all out first thing in the morning to allow you to get on with your day and is powerful, meditative, productive
- Journaling — Creating pitstops to record and reflect on your experiences provide endless opportunities to re-connect with your self, see how far you’ve come, solidify memories, create your own unique story
- Poetry — Stepping outside of your comfort zone, doing something new, connecting on a deeper level, using form and structure and musicality to have a lasting impact. A little one I wrote a year ago:
There is a little hollow, I can’t quite locate.
I stumble into it occasionally, as if it were fate.
I catch myself curious, willing myself to peer in.
Against some other judgement my reflection leering.
Equal parts curious, terrified and daring.
Eyes shut, diving in, taken under my own wing.
- Daily affirmations, goals setting — If you write it down, you are more likely to do it. However you choose to do it, having a list of the things you want to achieve in practical steps and referring back to it regularly will bring more of what you want into your life. I’ve got various lists of all the things I want in my life on the go, one in Wunderlist, some scribbled on bits of paper on my wall, some on sticky notes on my work desktop and then I usually try to write daily to do lists that hopefully line up with the bigger goals. I notice if I don’t maintain my lists or haven’t looked at them in a while, I tend to feel a little lost and unproductive
- 10 ideas a day — I haven’t done this one for a while, but its genuinely one of the most powerful I’ve ever tried. James Altucher asks you to make yourself come up with 10 ideas for anything you can think of every day. It has incredible potential to super charge your creativity, give you confidence in your own ideas and effectively problem solve
- Letter writing, thank you notes — writing to others is something I’ve not done much of in my yet. That will hopefully change this year. Letters are so rare and so personally touching. There are few better ways of showing someone that you care, you’re thinking of them, that you are grateful to have them in your life. If you’d like a letter this year let me know 🙂 I’d gladly send you one!
- Gratitude/things that make me happy lists — Another couple of lists that sit in Wunderlist and I’ve started recently. Gratitude lists of all the many, many wonderful things I am incredibly grateful for in my life. Also a list of all the things big and small that make me happy. These I find are incredible, proactive mood lifters when you’re feeling a little battered by life
- People profiles — this one might might sound a little creepy! Something I’m experimenting with right now is having a little note on Evernote for important people in my life. In it I note down memories we’ve shared, things they like, anecdotes they’ve shared. My memory fails me often and I’m meeting a lot of new people at the moment. It feels difficult to build deep relationships with people, even those I care most about. So these little snippits have helped me enormously for gift giving, remembering important milestones and events and re-connecting with people if its been a while.
So there you have it. My initial experiences into the world of writing. I don’t know where this journey will take me, but for me writing proved to be the gateway into myself and my own creativity and I could not be more grateful to have found it. I may not be a writer, but I will always be writing.