“I write to discover what I know.” – Flannery O’Connor
Expression is one of the bravest things I know.
It takes bravery to put a pen to paper when we don’t have a bank, boss, or teacher scolding us into producing something by a solid deadline. The world doesn’t care one way or another if we carve time out of our days to write – the globe keeps on spinning, love and death and war and commerce all careen along on their hopelessly unpredictable trajectories. We can limp along for years without “indulging” in our chosen form of creative expression. Surviving, yes, but probably not thriving.
(As if creativity were a tame little creature that we could play with on the side and placate in its cage from 9-5.)
When we get the pen moving, even if our ideas churn in a wild place in our hearts, at first they clatter onto the page and aren’t exactly sure what to do with themselves. Once the ideas are made of frantic penstrokes, it takes time for them to get used to their new physical inky reality. I picture handwritten words as lost teenagers embarking into the world – trying to make their mark, but still caught in a haze of lessons vying to be learned.
Our first dribbling words are like hatchlings that gnaw their way out of their eggs, desperate for a revolution. But when they finally reach the surface they are gnarled and stringing, wretching their way through egg glop, screaming and ugly. We wonder how in the world they are ever going to become real birds. They can’t fly on their own yet, they look miserable, and maybe they would have been better off staying in those eggs until they were a little more… developed. Pretty. Ready. Perfect.
When we decide not to express ourselves, we quiver in an egg of our own making. Eggs are natural and cyclical, disarmingly vulnerable, brimming with inborn potential and goodness. We can’t always tell if they are hard boiled or if they will crash to the floor into a puddle with one wayward breath. Eggs are clean and pretty but have gushing happening inside of them that no one sees. Eggs are safe. An egg can go on living its little eggy life until the forces of nature sweep it away.
But what if you are one of those people who feels bursts of energy shooting through your finger veins, who feels a psychic itchiness to write? What if someone’s passing comment sparks a ticker tape of poetry and imagery in your mind? What if you have a story that claws at your heart in desperation to be launched into the world? An egg may keep you warm, but it will never be good enough. You will want out.
The tricky part is that as writers we also tend to be readers, and in reading published works we witness the bird in all of its grown up glory, the regal vivid cardinal who soars over the land. We see these tremendous quotes and insights that inspire us, but we never see the author’s hatching process – the blood and embryonic fluid has been long washed away by the time we lay eyes on the published language. So in a grand illusion, we start to believe that the author’s words came out as eloquently as we see them on the page, and we compare our fluid-drenched hatching process to their final result.
When we do this, we convince ourselves that our writing has come up short. That our words are small and useless, that our parents were right all along, that we may as well get some Nice little job in the stock market or something because we’re not talented.
For a moment, forget the picturesque birds in giant coffee table books. And forget the words your favorite author has written. Because by choosing to put your pen to paper, you have already told me more about yourself as a writer than any of your words ever could.
I dare you to tell me that trying is easy. Trying is one of the most difficult things we could ever choose to do, and fear of trying has wilted many a heart-thumping business, love affair, and artistic idea. By choosing to put words on a page, even though you know they are unpolished and not quite what you want, you tell me that you are a warrior of the spirit. You show commitment to a craft and you show surrender to the act of writing – no matter to what imperfect places it may lead you.
So many people have dreams of being a writer, but they never pick up a pen. By writing things down, you join the army of the willing. You show the highest and most nurturing part of yourself “See! I want to write. I am showing up.” You open up a spaciousness for the Universe to move through you – onto the page and imbued in the not-quite-perfect words that come out at first. You dive right in.
Allow yourself the honor of an awkward first draft, a journal that no one will ever read, a love letter to yourself. Write to find out Who You Are. Find the people in your life who will support your writing life unconditionally, and nurture your friendships with these people no matter how crazy your life gets. You will repeat their radiant compliments over and over again in your mind on days when your own self doubt is debilitating.
(If you don’t have someone who supports your writing, contact me! I will try to set you up with a writing buddy or offer my own love and creative enthusiasm.)
Dare to suspend disbelief when you gape in horror at how awkward your first words sound. They are just catching their breath, and they are priming your hand and mind to open up for more beauty to unfold. They are hatching.