I didn't start to practice the craft of writing until I was thirty years old. But I've always been a writer.
Before I could call myself a writer, I wrote. Mostly lists, long letters, and plans. Some stories. I made up a cast of pretend friends, and I talked to myself. Still do. Thank you, bold new world in which I can believe that others believe I'm on some unseen device and not actually engaging with the imaginary characters in my head.
I've always been a writer, but I haven't always known it because I didn't know what it meant to be a writer. I didn't know that being a writer had nothing to do with publishing, or getting paid to write. Being a writer means I've always figured things out by writing.
Writing doesn't have to be for money and attention. Though, we are never sad when people send us cash and praise.
Even after I kind of thought I might maybe be a writer, it took me a while to claim it. I tell the story in Faking Balance about the day I confessed my big secret, in a Chuck E. Cheese in Wichita Falls, Texas. A mom in my circle was a writer and she told me it was okay to want to write, and to have no idea what that even meant. I have forever after referred to her as my writing angel.
That was 14 years ago. Since then I've logged many more than 10,000 hours. Here's what I know for sure:
Writing clears mental clutter.
I like the way Joan Didion said it: "I don't know what I think until I write it down."
It's amazing how ridiculous some of our thoughts are, left to roam around freely inside our heads, they make themselves out to be quite important. And sometimes they are, but you may never discern the meaty from the mediocre until you get them out of your head and onto the page where they can be organized into something useful.
Writing frees your mind to work on things far more significant than your own random thoughts. Maybe your beautiful mind will figure out how to make Sauvignon Blanc calorie-free. If that happens, please call me.
Writing is the one place you can be the Realest Real.
Let's face it, we cannot always tell the whole honest, unsprinkled-with-kindness, truthy truth to all the people we know. But if you're lucky, and you practice a lot, YOU can handle the truth of yourself.
There's no better place to practice the art of getting real than by putting pen to paper. Or pencil to paper. In Second Story Writer's Workshop we treat all writing as fiction, and we never make anyone share anything they don't want to. Because we want writers to get comfortable being really real. It's not as easy as it sounds.
Writing helps you figure out your next move.
Life is moving fast, isn't it? Just when you think it can't get any weirder, it's time to pick a President.
My husband and I took our son and daughter on an Epic East Coast Adventure this summer. At the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, we watched the world population counter tick up, and up, and up. Four, five, six humans at a time.
There are more than 7.2 billion people on Earth. That's more than double the number of people living on our little rock just 50 years ago.
7.2 billion people. I had a hard time sharing a hotel room with three of them for ten days.
7.2 billion people today. More tomorrow. The world is going to keep getting weirder.
Where do you fit? What should you do? Should you make more humans? And with whom?
Writing helps you figure out all these things.
Writing helps you get shit done.
Everybody's selling something. Do you want to impress your boss? Woo your clients? Convince your community to pony up for the abandoned pony sanctuary?
Writing is the only way I know to transform your ideas into action by putting the right words into the right order that results in things happening outside your own brain. That's where ALL the good stuff happens.
No matter how deep you think you think, thoughts stuck inside your mind are no good to anyone. Let them roam free!
Like the ponies.
Writing feels good.
If you're a scribbler, a talker to yourself-er, an obsessive list maker-- I'm sorry (not sorry) to be the bearer of the news, but you're a writer. You may as well accept it and put the sickness to good use.
If you're a writer by nature, and I'm not suggesting we're all J.K. Rowling in training, but if you've got the urge to write, nothing will make that go away. Nothing but writing.
If you've read this far, you're already stricken.
The good news is, when you write you will feel better. Your mind will be clearer, you'll have a place to let your loved ones know what the Really Real You REALLY thinks without having to sleep in the guest room. You'll fill page after page with amazing ideas that you may or may not ever act on, but it doesn't matter because writing them down is fun all by itself.
You'll become your very own soul mate, know what to do next, make your plans, and take action.
Writing. It's that good. I promise.