i’m a writer…?

In my new job, I’m surrounded by young visual artists, many of whom are working on their writing. At a staff meeting last week, we were asked to consider the concept of ’the writer’. What does a writer look like? Where are they, and who is around them? Next, we were asked to recall the last time we wrote, and visualize that scene – where we were, who we were with, the sounds around us, etc.

The exercise was telling; for most of us, the scenes of ‘a writer’ and ‘ourselves writing’ were quite different. One woman pictured a Stephen King-type character, drafting a bestseller on a typewriter in an old study filled with mahogany furniture and leather-bound books.

My concept of the writer was more bohemian; philosophers in Parisian cafes recording their observations on human nature, art, and politics. Though this image morphed into a modern-day version of me, it still didn’t match where I actually last wrote: my previous job, a place I was unhappy in, drafting a blog post on my work email between meetings and daily duties.

Writing got me through the day.

a collage

As I shared in my last post, I left that job a few weeks ago, largely because I had little creative juice left at the end of the day to pursue my other loves – those endeavours known and unknown, longing to be explored.

My new position doesn’t require much writing, but I’m surrounded by creative colleagues who are eager to learn more about my personal practice. And every time they express interest in my writing, I hesitate. I’m fascinated by this continual reluctance to see myself as one of these talented, artistic people!

Our meeting activity really illuminated how pervasive and insidious certain labels can be. But it also helped me realize that, when I’m composing a blog post, I am a writer. I’m choosing to write because I love to write. It doesn’t matter where I am, who I’m with, what I’m wearing. It doesn’t matter if I do it daily or how many words I type or who’s writing more or less. In that moment, I am a writer.

I could go further, but I discovered a post from my early blogging days that totally captures what I want to say. It’s a timeless reminder from 5-years-ago me to my present self (I love it when that happens!):

We are all creative.

No labels required.

just. keep. writing.

Writer’s block is an enigmatic phenomenon. I could be out for a walk, on the bus to work, heck even at work doing my job, and in under a minute I’ll mentally write an entire blog post. The words and ideas stream in so fast I can’t possibly record them, but I promise myself I will later. I’ll remember this, I think. But when I sit down to write – nothing.

Earlier this week, my colleague – an amazing poet and teacher – spoke to a group of high school students visiting our university to learn more about our creative writing program. (A post on ‘worlds colliding’ should follow this one, as the students’ teacher is coincidentally my best friend, who now lives south of the border.)

I attended the session, but didn’t expect to be so personally impacted. When I was in high school, ‘creative writing’ wasn’t a thing. I remember English classes and learning about form, structure, and grammar…and we did do some writing…but for the most part, creative expression wasn’t truly nurtured or celebrated.

Juliet’s balcony in Verona, Italy.

I can’t help but wonder how different my younger years would’ve looked, had I been encouraged to experiment with all forms and genres in writing. If studying the craft had been presented as a valuable, worthy calling.

Of course, there’s no real point in going there. It’s easy to get carried away with the ‘what if’s, thinking we were somehow shortchanged in our past. But we can’t really know how things might’ve otherwise turned out. Maybe in the end it wouldn’t have made much difference.

My poet friend was so inspiring in encouraging the students to express themselves, and I ponder why writing – a process that can literally be a life-saver for some – often remains so elusive for those who love it most.

Is it vulnerability? Putting ourselves ‘out there’ in any capacity can be intimidating…but with writing, it feels heightened. It’s our heart and soul we’re baring, opening ourselves to others’ perceptions and projections. We tell ourselves not to get caught up in likes, follows (or unfollows), and comments…but how can we not be impacted by those things?

Is it perfectionism? We might think we don’t have time, or that we’re too stressed, to write. But maybe it’s fear: fear that our written word will never look as great as we hope and envision. Fear that someone will make a negative comment, or we’ll sound pretentious or get it wrong. Or, maybe worst of all – that we’ll be exposed as an imposter.

Blogging breaks are sometimes necessary…but I am feeling the creative muse’s call – no, order – to keep writing. It doesn’t have to be blog posts; it doesn’t have to ‘be’ or look like anything. It can just be for me.

When it comes to nurturing our passions, there is always time. But it is on us to carve it out. Fortunately we now have the world of WordPress, where everyone can express themselves to their heart’s content! It’s not too late.

For all those sensitive people so attuned to the reactions of others, I say… I get it. Express yourself anyway. It doesn’t matter if you’re not experienced or published or getting paid for it. If you’ve found something that gives you even the smallest hint of joy, DO IT. Don’t even question why.

It is meaningful, it does matter, and it is making a difference. Just keep writing.