“Approach a book like you would a human being. Otherwise how could you possibly love her?” — Gabriel Liiceanu
Dear writers and other creators,
Many of us struggle with finding time and space to write (or make art). Our day jobs, friends, families, and social commitments often come first.
But what if we changed the way we think about our writing?
Stories — like relationships — can’t be forced, but the good ones can be nurtured.
I think of my writing as of a human being with whom I am in a love relationship. There is me, my writing, and our relationship. We share time and space. We respect each other’s individuality. We grow together.
I call the key components of our relationship “the magic seven”:
1. practicing openness and curiousity
We never really know the person next to us, or their potential. We will also never fully know our own, although we may have some idea. Moreover, sometimes it is not a matter of what you can achieve individually, but of what you and your partner can do together. There are parts of us that can only grow in solitude, and others that can only grow through authentic interactions. If you stay open to the experience, even if it may feel uncomfortable at first, it may surprise you, in unexpected ways. It may be something that neither of you could have predicted.
It is the same with writing. When you really open to writing, writing opens up to you, and you can grow together, as long as you don’t try to artificially control each other. Control is a way of expressing fear, a central fear being that of not being good enough. Don’t try to control the story. That isn’t very generous. Let it breathe and become what it needs to become in that magic vast space that you discover when you truly invest in your writing.
2. finding a common rhythm
You know how sometimes you really want something and you keep pushing for it? Well, surprise, that doesn’t fall well on other people. And when someone tries to do that to you, it doesn’t fall well on you either. You need to meet somewhere in the middle and pay attention to how the other person responds. Sometimes one of you leads the conversation. Sometimes one of you needs to withdraw before he or she can respond.
As much as you need confirmation, validation, and the safety of knowing that you click, don’t damage it by pushing it. We all want certainty, but truly creating something – as in you and your writing — means spending time together, and often not knowing where this will go, like in the early and sometimes even later stages of a relationship. Take your time to find a rhythm that works for both of you. It may take some trying-and-error but you will eventually find it.
3. spending quality (not quantity) time together
How come you take time for your family, friends, job, cleaning the flat, spending time with your pets, calling your cousin who sleeps when you are awake so you call him at 6 am each Friday, doing groceries, doing laundry, doing the dishes, babysitting your best friend’s daughter, going to birthday parties, business dinners, writing your research proposal, attending tedious family reunions, but you never find the time to write? Would you ever treat a human being who you claim is important to you in the same way?
Even if you only manage to spend 10 minutes per day or 1 hour per day with your writing, make that time, and pay attention to what happens within these time boundaries. Even if the time is short, listen to what your writing is telling you when you make this time happen. “Your writing doesn’t take time, it makes time“. You don’t need endless chunks of time with your writing to experience magic. You just need to really pay attention during the time you spend together. Switch off your phone, your laptop, the TV, and really listen to what the other one has to say. If you keep postponing it or hoping for more time, you are only fooling yourself: it won’t happen. If you claim that writing matters to you but resist making the time for it, you are actually resisting meeting yourself through your writing. Start with 10 minutes a day.
4. practicing trust in sharing tasks
Your partner may really love baking chocolate cake. He’s an expert at it. He might ask you to work on the icing after the baking is done, add some decoration here and there. You both want it to taste and look good for your guests. It needs to be appealing, but it also needs to be consistent; it needs to go way beyond first impressions. It would be nice if it lasted beyond the party, for the two of you to still share and enjoy later, when everyone else has gone home.
You know some things about grammar, structure, punctuation. But this is only the icing. Your free writing knows how to do the ground work, without which the icing would mean nothing: staying raw, building up, going to a place beyond language. Let free writing do the ground work, and take it from there.
5. having difficult conversations
There are topics we tend to avoid, in writing as well as in live. It is not always easy in the interaction with another to acknowledge each other’s boundaries, while also supporting each other’s growth. So we avoid dealing with topics that make us uncomfortable. Topics that challenge who we are, how we view the world, how others view us. These are the conversations that have the potential to change everything, and exactly the ones that we cannot avoid having, at least not forever. We often tend to postpone them over and over again to avoid dealing with an obvious but unspoken truth. But the truth has a way of surfacing in unexpected time and places. Not having these conversations can haunt us and makes us physically ill (trust me on this, I’ve been there).
Are you resisting dealing with certain topics in your writing? Are you resisting revising your own work? Are you resisting free writing it — whatever that it is — in the first place? Free write it. Hand write it. Let it come out. Take that first step. Have the courage to meet yourself deeply on the page. Whatever comes out, you can handle it, I promise. Then take it from there, one step at a time, but keep having those difficult conversations with yourself and with your writing. It’s only afterwards that you can start having them with the rest of the world.
6. escaping the comfort zone
There will be times when you will feel like you have found your voice, your place in your relationship with your writing. But is it really your voice, or is it a comfort zone? What if we don’t have a single voice, but voices? In writing, like in life, we develop. We are not fixed entities. It’s important to keep growing together. When you are in a comfort zone, all your stories may start sounding the same way. Either you are using the same character, the same structural patterns, or the same kind of sentence flow. These stories seem to sound like you, but they become boring after a while, both to read and to write. They become boring to inhabit. You are not treating your partner — your writing — with the generosity it deserves.
Take risks and reignite that passion that got you together in the first place, while also accepting that some things have changed. Some of the things you test in attempts to leave the comfort zone may feel awkward at first. They may feel unlike you. But you need to try them out. Otherwise, you are not giving your relationship with your writing the opportunity to become everything that it has the potential to be. Each time you start writing a new text, you should feel nervous. You should feel excitement, joy, wonder. Like when you meet someone for the first time. Keep finding ways to meet your writing for the first time, even if you’ve already spent some good years together, shared stories, tears, laughter. Give yourselves multiple chances to keep evolving together, with every new chapter you start.
7. moving forward
When something doesn’t work, you can keep trying, or you can end it. Both are valid approaches. You place everything on the balance and you take an informed decision, with your heart and your mind. If there are things that are non-negotiable for you that you just aren’t getting out of this interaction — such as authenticity — let is pass, and move forward.
We all had our share of bad relationships, or stayed in unhealthy relationships for much too long. We got hurt by others and we hurt other people too. We got mixed messages about love in our childhood, and had to figure out our own rules as grown-ups, our own values, needs, wants, no-goes and boundaries, our own definition of commitment and sustained magic.
It’s funny, but it’s actually reading — and writing — that really taught me how to love.
Stories — like relationships — can’t be forced…
“As a matter of fact, consider what happens with a book. You notice it, you discover it, and –on a case-by-case basis — you either welcome it inside you and remember it forever, or you forget its name.” — Gabriel Liiceanu
…but the good ones can be nurtured.
I’ve tried to present my magic seven ingredients as separate, but they’re all connected.
And now I cannot help wondering:
- How do you approach your writing/art?
- How do you maintain your relationship fresh?
- How do you challenge the much dreaded comfort zone?
- What’s your magic seven, or three, or maybe even just one?
Even if it’s only a one, it’s a start. Start from where you are right now. Just start.
I’d love to learn more about your relationship with writing, so please share your experience by commenting below.
Keep writing, with love,
Note: On Sep 24th, I’ll be reading at The Munich Readery again, as part of the global 100 Thousand Poets for Change action. This year, it’s all about finding our place on this planet and reconnecting with nature. Will you join in? I’d love to connect with you there.