Lessons Learned

Writing’s one condition: honesty

For more than 4 years, I’ve maintained this blog, some stretches more regularly than others. My stated intent was to embark on a journey of self-discovery and claim my own voice and place in the world.

Looking back, I think I’ve done that. With each post, I’ve taken an idea, a feeling, an experience and given it flesh. I’ve explored the question “Who am I?” by sharing glimpses from my life. Now, having been at my craft for some time, I want to share some lessons learned.

• Writing takes courage. It’s like boring an augur to one’s heart, even when it hurts. As self-evident as it may seem, this was a revelation to me. I had long written for organizations and been the voice of others while keeping my own voice and opinions silent. I had long played it safe by standing on the sidelines and not entering the conversation.

• Writing is hard. Most days I think it’s the hardest thing I’ve done. Giving birth pales to the effort of bringing an idea into being, at least for me. Often the gestation period for a draft I’m slogging through is much longer. Still, I wouldn’t trade my writing time for anything.

• Writing leads to new understanding. As many writers have said before me, I write to make sense of the world and to find out who I am. But writing also draws me into the unknown. My mother is more central to my memoir than I originally imagined. Yes, she was the sun around which my childhood orbited. Yes, I cared for her during the last 10 years of her life. But the place she occupies in my story is even more essential. She instilled values that shaped me—kindness, generosity,  faithfulness, humility. She also struggled with a sense of unworthiness that migrated to my own self-understanding. Exploring her felt presence in my life has helped me acknowledge aspects of myself I’ve long avoided or tried to mask.

• Writing demands feeling. My writing coach excels at asking the probing, necessary questions. What is the overarching emotion driving my story? Without that prompt, I might not have eventually been able to say, “I’ve always felt different, alienated from the world, which has led to a deep longing to belong and be loved for who I am.”

• Writing has one condition: honesty. If done with real intent, writing leads to the truth beyond the truth, or Truth with a capital “T.” More than scientific proof, more than the inarguable sum of 2 numbers, writing yields a consequential power that both embodies and transcends us. Writing transforms. It brings us to a place of resurrection and new life.

The stakes are high in writing. Sometimes they feel impossibly high. What if I say something that is controversial? What if I break open the notion I’ve cultivated about myself and let others see the “real” me? By its very nature, writing must have stakes. It doggedly pursues the “what ifs” down labyrinthian paths, with no promised end.

Writing is like entering a practice room every day, a room where a musician goes to play or sing a passage over and over again to get it right. Writing is like yoga (as I’ve said before), demanding singular focus—a willingness to push the boundaries of what we think we know or can do in order to  strengthen our very purpose.

Substitute “life” for “writing” in the bulleted list above and the same lessons apply.

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