With over 30 years experience teaching creative writing, Elizabeth Ayres knows exactly what kinds of concerns aspiring writers have. In this series, she answers questions posted by “TS,” a typical student.
TS: “I’ve always loved to write, to keep journals, to make up stories and poems, but I never seem to get anywhere. I feel like I’m wasting my time, goofing around, pretending to be a writer.”
The feeling that you’re wasting time when you’re writing is very common, because the creative process is inextricably bound up with playfulness, with spontaneity, with pleasure: qualities our culture does not honor. In fact, the very phrase, creative ‘process,’ reveals that it’s something different than ‘product.’
The long and the short of it is, you probably don’t have much patience with yourself. It’s hard for you to dabble, to experiment. Yet playful experimentation is the most important investment you can make in yourself, because process is a prerequisite for product.
“Getting somewhere” with creativity is first and foremost a matter of getting somewhere inside yourself. Think of an underground stream. To make productive use of its abundance, you’ve got to build a well. Once you learn how to dig down to where your creative stream flows free, you’ll know how to bring your inner abundance forth onto the page in buckets of words. But while you’re learning how to do that, you’re bound to be assailed by doubts. You might be tempted to give up, because it’s hard. Because there’s little recognition and even less remuneration for writing. And the question keeps coming back: “Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?”
The great priest-scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote beautifully about the process of becoming “something more.” He said – I paraphrase – that the future reaches into the present and draws us forward through our experience of attraction, which he calls ‘zest.’ That’s a great word. Take a minute and let the word conjure an image for you. Fireworks in a nighttime sky? The fresh tingling scent of a bright yellow lemon?
Zest is what destiny feels like. Your future speaks to you through your passions, your attractions. It reaches into the present and draws you forth to become all that you’re meant to be.
Here are four signs that creative writing is your destiny.
1. You’re a notebook junkie. When I used to teach in elementary schools as a poet-in-residence, I met thousands of talented children. I met only one whom I was convinced would grow up to be a writer: she had five different notebooks and had named each one.
2. You’re obsessed with writing implements. It might be pens, or pencils, or high-tech keyboard gadgets. Each one feels subtly different from the others, and you’re convinced that with it you’ll be able to find your true, authentic voice.
3. At social gatherings, you tend to stand back, to watch rather than participate. You blame yourself for not being engaged, and lament the fact that you’re an outsider. But you also enjoy watching people. You want to write down the odd things they say. You make up stories about them in your head. You follow them home in your mind and imagine what they’re doing or saying or thinking or dreaming.
4. You have a drawer or closet filled with writing. You may never have finished anything, but the snippets are there. They call to you. They beg you to complete them. You tell them you don’t know how, but they insist. Sometimes they wake you up in the middle of the night.
If you suffer from any of these symptoms, you’re meant to be writing. It’s your destiny, and the instant you pick up your pen, you’ll move into your own completion. Begin by building up your courage with affirmations. Like a child in school who needs to be taught a lesson, write “I want to write” or “I am a writer” fifty times on a blank sheet of paper. Do this every day for one week, then go back to those snippets in your drawer. Pick one. Finish it. Then write fifty times on a sheet of paper, “I have claimed my destiny.”