Writing (and reading) your life

There’ve been lots of questions in the twitter and Facebook spheres in recent weeks about why writers write. My own shortest answer would be: to know more. For me, there’s no better way to understand humankind as well as ideas in greater depth – and to use the gifts of mind and spirit that are our species’ greatest blessing.  I read for joy, distraction, insight, pleasure, knowledge.  I read because I am an idealist. Because I am incurably (I hope) curious. In fact, because I am increasingly curious as I age. Because books have been my most faithful companions since I was a tiny child. Because they speak to me, as Rainer Maria Rilke would say, of the “deepest things”.  Reading creates meaning for me. And, in the presence of words, I sometimes laugh out loud. Or cry over lives that otherwise would never be part of mine. An introvert, I am never “alone” when I have something to read. Never bored. Rarely restless. And I write for similar reasons.

Writing takes me much deeper than reading alone can. It’s harder, tougher, not always fun. It can be intensely sobering. Blank pages can be like blank walls. Horrible to hit and hard to scale. Yet writing’s rewards – when they come – are greater than reading’s. It’s the move from reception to action.

Because writing can be so sublimely rewarding, I feel strongly that we should all do versions of it. What a revolution that would be: a thoughtful world! A world where people thought it natural to know what they think and what effect their thoughts have!  Without writing and the reflection that writing demands and allows, insight is truncated, limited. Ruminating (turning our thoughts over in our minds), we are far less likely to make new discoveries than when we empty our thoughts onto the page. And then see what comes next.

Ruminating or daydreaming has its rewards; honest, reflective writing offers far more. Writing, we become familiar with our own boring excuses; the limitations of our analyses; the dreary circularity of much of our thinking. Writing: we risk gaining freshness, a new perspective. We may even see or understand a quite new “view”. Our minds age less rapidly when we use them more. So why wouldn’t we?

I’ve written a great deal about writing and reading in two books: In the Company of Rilke and Creative Journal Writing. Such different books: but writing and reading are vast topics. CJW is short, direct, personal; you can take it to bed or on walks with you, along with your journal. I’ve never failed to teach anyone to write using that method, even those whose yearnings to write were squashed by ignorant adults at an early age. As for reading Rilke and thinking about how reading Rilke changes you, all I can say is that it was worth five years of my life. Getting started and keeping going, I can also recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life.

After nearly 40 years in publishing and writing, I have to say that I still love teaching writing. I love witnessing the joy, release, insights and self-affirmation it can bring. I taught writing in a range of settings long before I “became” a psychological/spiritual teacher and see clearly that the results are remarkably similar to going on retreat: going inward to see the “outward” differently and understanding our own small selves in relation to the big, big whole.

I’ve written about writing your life also on Facebook and you can go there to share comments. You can buy the books/guides I am suggesting in your local bookshops or on line. Nothing at all needs to stand in the way of the adventure of writing. And if you are your own roadblock, then write about that!! CJW will tell you how.