I picked up the phone and called the friend I always depended on in writing crises. “How can I sit here trying to write? Shouldn’t I be doing something socially useful instead, like keeping a decent home—or counseling battered women?”
With her usual blessed patience, Margaret said, “Do you realize the power of words? The Bible, Rumi¸ Hemingway, Tom Paine, the Declaration of Independence, Shakespeare, Homer, Twain, Whitman, Jack Kerouac . . . should I continue?”
I felt chagrined and encouraged. What was ailing me? Guilt about too much pleasure? Too little money? Not holding a “real” job, in the world’s judgment? Working comfortably at home far from neighbors’ mad commutes?
Despite my long commitment to writing, underneath lingered a feeling that my creative desires and dreams were frivolous, bad, ridiculous, that creating wasn’t really “God’s Will” for me. I sought confirmation from others wiser and more confident.
American philosopher Eric Hoffer: “Man’s only legitimate end in life is to finish God’s work—to bring to full growth the capacities and talents implanted in us” (The Ordeal of Change, p. 95).
Spiritual teacher Catherine Ponder: “Remind yourself often that if it were not God’s good will for you to experience fulfillment of the deep desires of your heart, you would not desire them in the first place“(Pray and Grow Rich, p. 103).
Creativity sage Julia Cameron: “Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God. Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source” (The Artist’s Way, p. 3).
Of course writing is hard, agonizing sometimes, depriving, maddening and frustrating. Philip Roth’s now-famous damning advice to a young waiter-writer, shortly before he himself hung up his pen, can echo in our heads: ““I would quit while you’re ahead. Really. It’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. . . . You don’t want to do this to yourself” (Avi Steinberg, The New Yorker, February 8, 2013).
We know. The reams and screens we must discard, knowing they’re rubbish. The rushing ideas surging like a runaway dam. We can’t scribble or talk fast enough to get them all, and even if we could, we’d need two centuries to complete them all. The intrusions on regular life, where in the middle of a lunch date we have to dictate surreptitiously into our phone because a fix just popped up to the problem we’ve been ruminating about all week. The choices we have to make, like Roth’s indentured life—less time with kids, family, friends; bypassed explorations of so many things we’d like to know more about; just plain delicious leisure.
And yet . . . I take solace from Elizabeth Gilbert, an acknowledged believer in the creativity-spirituality connection. Conceding writing’s drawbacks, she refutes Roth’s torturous description: “Compared to almost every other occupation on earth, it’s f**ing great” (Elizabeth Gilbert, Bookish, February 4, 2013).
When we question our writing drive, we forget how great it is. The bliss of finding the right word or phrase, nailing it, and knowing it captures the essence. The bliss, after an hour or two, of feeling the words flow like melted butter. The bliss of reading or hearing a publisher’s “yes” to a piece we’ve labored on like a construction worker in the desert. Natalie Goldberg was right: “Just writing is heaven” (Writing Down the Bones, p. 142).
My friend Margaret too was right. Our words hold the power of persuasion, enlightenment, adventure, transmission of beauty, lightness, wonder, stirring of noblest emotions. The drive to write, ingrained, inexplicable, and, in Joan Frank’s words, Because You Have To (see her book and blog), heralds each of our distinctive messages.
Granted, our drive may need reminding, reassurance, fortifying. It may need our firm hand and hard talk. It certainly needs consistent forgiveness, patience, and faith. Above all, it needs our faith that it is indeed a God-given gift.
Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne writes fiction and nonfiction, having published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Writer’s Digest, The Writer, ReadLearnWrite, Women on Writing, Transormation Magazine, 11.11, and Unity booklets. Her monthly column, “Bloom Where You’re Writing,” appears in Coffeehouse for Writers. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has helped doctoral candidates complete their dissertations (finally), with a psychological-spiritual handbook in progress. In her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books; one of ten best 2011 ebooks), she draws examples from her practice and other aspects of life to help writers and others release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. See Noelle’s website: www.trustyourlifenow.com. With Trust Your Life, Noelle appears in the Unity Books 2013 “Summer of Self-Discovery” on Goodreads with two other authors of positive messages for discussions and free webcasts: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/100799-unity-books