We know that writing requires a kind of sacred attention to what we see, hear, taste, touch and feel in our surroundings and memories. It can be difficult, though, to linger in those places when time flies swiftly by. It is my hope that by naming our writing as a true friend, we will be more likely to choose writing over tasks that aren’t necessary to take on at a particular moment and to choose writing as we would a close friend from afar who suddenly knocks at our door.
Kim Stafford blesses his students with this hope: that we spend our time in “worthy company.” Our writing is an intimate friend in this important crowd.
Here are several writers’ ideas that inform me about how writing is worthy company:
Writing can be your friend, and you your writing’s friend, even during times of not writing. A true friend understands there are intervals in which you don’t stay in everyday touch.
In his 2008 article “On Not Writing” for the New York Times “Opinionator” column, Bill Hayes writes that:
…writing is not “measured in page counts…any more than a writer is defined by publication credits.” To be a writer is to make a commitment to the long haul, as one does (especially as one gets older) to keep fit and healthy for as long a run as possible. For me, this means staying active physically and creatively, switching it up, remaining curious and interested in learning new skills (upon finishing this piece, for instance, I’m going on my final open-water dive to become a certified scuba diver), and of course giving myself ample periods of rest, days or even weeks off. I know that the writer in me, like the lifelong fitness devotee, will be better off.
Taking time off from writing to prime the pump is a benefit of your friendship with writing. You can go off on your own away from your writing and come back with lots to share with writing.
Writing makes you smart. In “Why You Should Write, David Perell proclaims:
When you know you’re going to write, you change the way you live. You can no longer sleepwalk through life. The most powerful insights come from everyday experiences that people ignore.
As Sherlock Holmes said: “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”
And he too makes a fitness analogy:
The best way to learn faster is to have a stake in the outcome. Risk awakens our learning muscles like a splash of cold water. If you want to learn to cook invite friends over for dinner; if you want to learn about stocks, invest in the stock market; and if you want to learn about an idea, publish an article about it.
Instead of ignoring the mundane writers welcome it. From the annoyance of a DMV line to the wrath of a torrential downpour, many of my best ideas arrive in moments of extreme inconvenience. Recently, during a canceled flight in Washington D.C., I realized that airports are lawless places. You can sleep on the floor, put your feet on chairs, have dessert for breakfast, brush your teeth in public, or chug a Heineken at 7 am.
There are no rules.
Now that is one accommodating friend! Your writing is not judging you and is comfortable with ideas that might be frowned upon by others.
Writing is a partner that helps you prize both work and relaxation.
Ray Bradbury speaks in terms I like to think of as partnering with writing, making it a best friend whose rhythms encourage you to be better than you were when you blamed yourself for “bad” writing or for playing when you “should have been working on your writing.” These instructions from Bradbury are quoted in Open Culture:
WORK. It is, above all, the word about which your career will revolve for a lifetime. Beginning now you should become not its slave, which is too mean a term, but its partner. Once you are really a co-sharer of existence with your work, that word will lose its repellent aspects. [ … ] We often indulge in made work, in false business, to keep from being bored. Or worse still we conceive the idea of working for money. The money becomes the object, the target, the end-all and be-all. Thus work, being important only as a means to that end, degenerates into boredom. Can we wonder then that we hate it so?
RELAX. Impossible! you say. How can you work and relax? How can you create and not be a nervous wreck? [ … ] Tenseness results from not knowing or giving up trying to know. Work, giving us experience, results in new confidence and eventually in relaxation. The type of dynamic relaxation again, as in sculpting, where the sculptor does not consciously have to tell his fingers what to do. The surgeon does not tell his scalpel what to do. Nor does the athlete advise his body. Suddenly, a natural rhythm is achieved. The body thinks for itself.
DON’T THINK! The writer who wants to tap the larger truth in himself must reject the temptations of Joyce or Camus or Tennessee Williams, as exhibited in the literary reviews. He must forget the money waiting for him in mass-circulation. He must ask himself, ‘What do I really think of the world, what do I love, fear, hate?’ and begin to pour this on paper. Then, through the emotions, working steadily, over a long period of time, his writing will clarify; he will relax because he thinks right and he will think even righter because he relaxes. The two will become interchangeable. At last he will begin to see himself.
FURTHER RELAXATION. We should not look down on work nor look down on the forty-five out of fifty-two stories written in our first year as failures. To fail is to give up. But you are in the midst of a moving process. Nothing fails then. All goes on. Work is done. If good, you learn from it. If bad, you learn even more. Work done and behind you is a lesson to be studied. There is no failure unless one stops. Not to work is to cease, tighten up, become nervous and therefore destructive of the creative process. [ … ] Isn’t it obvious by now that the more we talk of work, the closer we come to Relaxation.
Have I sounded like a cultist of some sort? A yogi feeding on kumquats, grapenuts and almonds here beneath the banyan tree? Let me assure you I speak of all these things only because they have worked for me for fifty years. And I think they might work for you. The true test is in the doing. Be pragmatic, then. If you’re not happy with the way your writing has gone, you might give my method a try. If you do, I think you might easily find a new definition for Work. And the word is LOVE.
Terry Tempest Williams
Writing is the kind of companion that demands you know yourself. Writing your way to an abyss that you didn’t realize you would enter in order to find out what is at the bottom of your heart, mind and experience may cause you not to write. But if you trust in the friendship of your writing to stick with you in the dark, you can dig down into the unknown and come back up informed and more emotionally competent. In Thought Catalog’s “33 Authors on Why They Write, ” Terry Tempest Williams reflects:
I write to make peace with the things I cannot control. I write to create fabric in a world that often appears black and white. I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue. I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things differently perhaps the world will change.
Your writing helps you maintain sanity, ease anxiety, and be right with yourself in a world trying to tear you from finding your center.
And here is one more element of the dynamic friendship between you and your writing: going through tough revisions together causes you to prize an increased respect for your writing. As a result of coming through the revision process, you demonstrate support and enthusiasm for your writing and its growth and perhaps recognize how your writing prizes your growth, as well.
Sherran Clarence describes this interaction and its benefits in her article, “Revisions Are the Hardest Thing to Do,” posted on Thinking About Writing in the Academy. It is the same process for creative writing.
You could revisit a first-year essay in second, and third-year and as a postgrad, for example, and right very different versions of that essay which would hopefully show the widening and deepening of your knowledge and learning, and also the growth in yourself as a writer. The revision and rethinking/writing facilitates your growth as a writer and also the deepening of your knowledge and understanding as you work on clearer and more credible ways to articulate what you know and what it means in the context of the argument you are making. When we write and think about what we know we are forced to think about what it means, and why others need to read about it. We are forced to be articulate in ways that challenge what we think about our own writing and the topics we are writing about, so revising our work also makes us better scholars. Or, it can at least with the right help along the way.
Growth comes when you fully participate in rethinking and re-imagining.
So writing is your role model, your mentor, and always the entity that listens to your joys and to your sorrows, that helps you take everything in and encourages you to live more of yourself. And writing is there waiting when you have needed a break. No questions asked.
Try this to cement your friendship with writing:
Think about a time in your childhood when you made a new friend? Write a short piece about that time naming the friend Writing
Think about making a friend in college or at your first job or early in a marriage? Write a second part in which that friend is called Writing.
Think of a time more recently when you made a new friend and perhaps built an especially unexpected friendship? Write a third piece calling that friend Writing.
Put the pieces together as one under a title you think unifies the making and deepening of your friendship with Writing.
You’ll see you have the good fortune of having made writing a best friend forever. This side-by-side friendship facilitates accepting yourself as a writer and with acceptance comes new energy for the craft that compels those of us who write.
This tune helps me celebrate the importance of my friendship with writing:
Through all kinds of weather
What if the sky should fall
Just as long as we’re together
It doesn’t matter at all
When they’ve all had their quarrels and parted
We’ll be the same as we started
Just travelin’ along, singin’ our song
Side by side
Hum along with me?