I like reading about writing. Memoir, how to, memoir disguised as how to…I gobble it up. Reading is a safe playground for me and sometimes consumption is a way to learn about the craft.
But I also think:
- Reading is a trap. Reading the work of another takes me away from writing.
- Reading is essential. What I read informs what I write.
- Reading is distraction. It is the best way I know how to avoid doing working of my own.
Crafting a personal essay allures and intimidates. But I’m drawn to writing them as much as reading them, even though I’m better at the later than executing the former. You’re not telling somehow to do something. The goal usually isn’t to offer an opinion on someone else’s work. You’re not offering your take on current events, or even crafting a work of fiction. Those types of writing are important and necessary.
Sharing who you are in an essay, articulating something important to you — that’s a noble goal that no one is necessarily asking for. What you write might be accepted or rejected. Maybe some people will be moved, disgusted, or pass over your writing after mindlessly reading a few sentences. You can spend a lot of timing writing and re-writing an essay, or you can jot down a couple of paragraphs without much thought. There are so many ways to think about the personal essay and even in writing this one, I’ve discovered something new.
Thinking is a playground for me. I enjoy putting new ideas together, listening to my emotions as well my intellect in the process and attempting to articulate them to myself, and maybe eventually — the page.
But I also think:
- Thinking is a trap. I often wonder if the thoughts I have are good and worthy of sharing.
- Thinking is essential. Not every thought I have is going to led to creative work, even though I put pressure on myself to make it so.
- Thinking is a distraction. It takes me away from getting solid work down on paper.
I’m slowly learning how to hold these things — reading, writing, and thinking — more loosely.
This is probably a wild generalization but getting inspired by reading a book or thinking a thought can be easy. Thoughts can lead us interesting, dangerous, and wonderful places. And thoughts can also get us stuck — thinking about thoughts, and then doubting the thoughts you think. But taking thoughts — your inspiration as a writer, committing to it, getting the thoughts wrangled onto the page, into a place that is not just delight for you, but an offering to others, a hopefully a blessing to the reader — this is what inspires me.
You become more of who you are in thought and action the longer you live. I think many strident voices, both internal and external, would have us believe it to be more complicated than that. I name one of those voices as fear. Fear would have us obsess about the value of our work and a desire for our work to be instantly accepted. Fear would have us look at likes, thumbs up, or hearts to the things we make and share. Fear would have us fixate on hits on a website, comments on a page, or perhaps even monetary compensation as the reflection of our value and a solid metric of successful creative work. These are not bad things by themselves, but it’s a distraction from the work.
From the honest work of sitting down with oneself to do the work.
I used to be concerned about outcomes. Actually, I’ll be more honest — I’m less concerned about outcomes. I’m still learning to let go of old motivations. To not let the fear of the unknown or the fear of not being good enough be in the driver’s seat of my creative process, whether it’s for pay or simply because I want to create. Because the longer I live, the more I realize that it’s up to me to accept that creative work can be as easy as I let it be. This is the key lesson I’m learning in this season as a creative.
Of course, there are wounds to heal from, broken perspectives to release, and internal (maybe even external) critics to befriend. But the longer I live, the more I accept that it can be easy. To just sit down at the blank page, and to see what happens. It took me about an hour to draft a first pass of this essay. I say this not because I’m proud of the speed of how fast I got this down on [digital] paper, I’m just happy to have wrangled some thoughts I’ve had for a long time.
Because what else matters if you have a blank page, an idea, and the will to simply try to craft something new?
You as you right now is all you need to show up to a blank page. This is reminder for me as a writer as much as for any reader who is facing a literal or metaphorical blank page of their own. Don’t doubt the creativity that is inherent in you. And when you realize you’re doubting, remember the truth, and start again.
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
- Mary Oliver