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A Gift, Given

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Have a great holiday!

I honestly couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t string a thought together inside my noggin until I realized I hadn’t had coffee before I left the house this morning. Now, safely returned and soaking up caffeine, I’m amazed nobody got hurt. It’s a big ol’ zoo out there. I’m glad to be settled in now, listening to my windchimes rattle and watching rain speckle the window.

This Friday, instead of a process post, I thought I’d get into the holiday spirit (so to speak) and list a few things writing has given me. It’s difficult for me to understand how people get on without writing, but a lot of people find it just as difficult to understand how I get along without watching telly. Fair’s fair.

Writing is what I was made and designed to do. I suspect that when I was being made someone poured a dose of graphomania into my bones. I cannot conceive of not writing, I know I would not have survived a few things if not for the act of stringing words together. That act, an old and deep magic, has saved me uncounted times, and it continues to save me every day. These are a few things writing has given me, or taught me:

* Endurance. I’m a big fan of stubborn endurance anyway. Well, maybe not “fan”. Maybe “unsuspecting idiot who can’t do anything else”. Writing, especially writing for publication, has fed that deep-down stubborn refusal to quit I’ve carried around like a load of lead in my bones my entire life.

Example? When I was learning to ride a bicycle, I didn’t get that you had to pedal backward to brake. It just made no sense to me. So I simply got up to speed, and when I wanted to stop I just picked something to run into. This was a bit uncomfortable (it’s a miracle I didn’t break anything, really) and it took a month or two before the “click” happened and my body figured out about the pedaling-backward-to-brake thing. I could give another hundred examples, but I think that one will do. I approached publication basically the same way: I kept going until I found out how to make it work. And the several iterations a book has to go through before it’s publishable (draft, draft, draft, copyedits, proofs, ARGH) are a test of that stubbornness. Good or bad, writing fuels it, and in doing so, writing has taught me a lot about just picking up and carrying on.

* The habit of observation. The world can be a cruel, malicious, terrible, nasty, brutish place. Human beings seem to love nothing better than helping it along down that path. Or at least, that’s what I was convinced of decades ago, growing up in an emotional desert and struggling to survive. The habit of observation to gather material for writing, however, has crept in and loosened some of that. Yes, the world is a nasty place sometimes. But it is also good. Things work out a ridiculous amount of the time. Not only that, but the act of observation is critical to the act of art, which is (to me) the act of transforming the world. Observing in service of writing has taught me that yes, life is suffering (thank you, Buddha) but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Beauty lies under the surface, and the potential for beauty can be seen and made.

* Value. Or perhaps more accurately, worth. For most of my life, I have struggled with an acute sense of worthlessness. I was told over and over that my value was essentially zero, or even negative. Writing taught me this was a lie. Not because I write things people eventually end up buying (though that is super-awesome, don’t get me wrong). No, it’s because the act of writing, of creating something out of nothing, has to have value. When I say writing has saved more than my life, this is what I mean: writing, creating something that wasn’t there before, teaches me in a very basic way that I have worth. Over and over again, this magic is performed for me. I just have to show up.

* Everyday increments count. This is my bargain with the Muse: as long as I keep swinging, she keeps pitching. I make the commitment to show up every day, and she brings the rest with her. I may only get a couple steps staggered down the road some days. But each inch I move forward gets me closer, and sooner or later, I get to the top of the mountain. Writing has taught me about breaking a journey to Mordor up into single steps, and taking each step one. at. a. time. Boring? Sometimes. Slogging? Yes. Thankless? Mostly. But it gets me there.

* Holding the line counts too. I got a lovely Christmas card from a reader. Inside, she wrote, “Thanks for throwing the line.”

I cried.

Writing is pursued in solitude. It’s easy to lose track of the outside world when you’re sewn up in a manuscript. When the book goes out into the world, it’s hard to remember that other people are picking it up and handling its internal world. Shouting into the void is a writer’s trade, and when the void answers…well, I can’t easily describe the feeling. I’ve had so many people write to me, or tell me at signings, of one of my books affecting their lives. Giving them strength or an escape, a shock of recognition or a few hours of release. It’s humbling and proud all at once. And it makes me ever more determined to hold the line, since you never know when someone might catch at the other end.

* Companionship. Writing has been my spur, my solace, my refuge, my vehicle, my weapon, my shield, a faithful friend and a constant lover, a source of strength and comfort, a necessary frustration and a saving grace. Whatever it is in me that searches for words to build a framework on, whatever accident or quirk that cracked the bedrock and gave me this secret spring, is a reminder that even in the desert I have an inner resource. One can be lonely even in a crowd, but writing makes my essential aloneness less lonely. Writing has never disappointed, failed, or betrayed me. It has literally saved my life and soul, and it asks so little in return–just the commitment to show up every day.

There are other things writing has given me, but this would turn into a Gormenghast of a blog post. (Can you tell what my reading project in the new year will be?) Anyway, this is just a few of the reasons why I write, why I will continue writing, why I can’t see stopping and why I say writing saved me. It has given me so much. And now we come to the point. (Yes, I had a point.)

You, whoever you are, have something similar inside you. Your bedrock is cracked too, and you have a secret spring. Don’t be afraid of it, or minimize it. Get down there and drink all you can. It doesn’t matter if it’s genius or pedestrian, if it’s novice or amateur or professional, it just doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. There is something inside you that can transform the world. It will always be there for you, no matter what. It’s yours, and nobody can ever take it away. It will remain with you always, and it is never too late to start dipping your cup.

This is a gift that is given. Grab it with both hands.

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