Open Letter: The One Thing I Must Do
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom
~ Anais Nin
That day has arrived. For many years, all my adult life, in fact, I have been keeping a secret. Sometimes a secret feels like a piece of magic within you that keeps you safe when it’s dark outside, and for many years my secret was a star that illuminated the darkness and lit fires of creativity within me. But somewhere along the way my secret became a stone, heavy and unbearable. Only in the past year have I linked persistent sadness and a chronic, frustrated helplessness to the unnatural amount of energy I am using to keep my secret hidden. It has become a burden to carry around all these years, and I know now that I have to either release it or be crushed by it.
So, what is this secret?
This stone I have been carrying, my star? It is this: I am a writer.
My simple confession may come as a damp squib, being of no surprise to those of you who have been following me on Instagram, but if my IG account was a chisel, then a website dedicated to my writing is a sledgehammer to the wall I have been silently building and imprisoning myself behind.
Instagram is full of kind strangers and creative people who understand the importance of dreams. In my offline life, by contrast, only a handful of people I am very close to know about my writing. (And probably even less understand or support it). I have been bemused, touched and deeply thankful for all the support my wee writing account has received over the past few months. But there is more wall to demolish.
For as long as I can remember I have been hiding this fundamental part of who I am, and I can’t exactly explain why. Perhaps it is a fear of not being ‘ready’, or the feeling that I can’t call myself a writer unless I have published several books that I earn a living from. Often I don’t feel good enough to call myself a writer. Society, certainly, does not encourage writing, or any creative pursuit, as a viable lifestyle, therefore self-doubt and misgivings are, to an extent, natural in aspiring creatives. But hiding the fact that I write at all seems like a dire act of self-sabotage.
When a colleague asks what I did at the weekend I’ll often reply ‘Nothing’, when I actually wrote several poems. Or if I’m invited to a social event I pretend I’m ill, instead of explaining that I use my free time to write. Every time I pretend my writing does not exist a little piece of me dies.
As the years wear on this lack of self-expression has become disturbing, depressing and a drain on my creative vitality. I have to wonder if my readiness to suppress this fundamental part of who I am means that I don’t really want to be a writer at all.
Yet each evening or day off, here I am, traversing my imaginary lands. On lunch breaks, when I walk across the foggy dam, words form in my mind like droplets of mist, waiting to fall as ink upon a fresh page. Most weekends see me at my desk. On a good day I could write page after page, oblivious to the hours slipping by. And on bad writing days I am probably terrible to live with, unable to see the joy in anything.
So why the reluctance to call myself a writer? Why the need to hide the fact that I write?
Indeed, why the compulsion to write at all?
One dark hour last month, still unconvinced that I had what it took to be a writer I submitted my soul to Rilke’s test.
I entered the small clearing of Being, a quiet, moonlit place. I asked the only question Rilke deemed necessary for writers to ask themselves, and in the clearing the answer was illuminated. I Saw that the only constant in my life is writing. Not just at my desk with pen and paper but wherever I happen be, my imagination brimming with stories and the words I will use to tell them.
If I’m out on the hills I am writing.
If I’m listening to music I am writing.
If I’m at a party I am writing.
If I’m staring blankly out of the window I am writing.
The act of writing is indivisible from my self, and if taken away I would no longer be who I am. The exhaustion of years suddenly made sense. My denial of writing is a denial of my Being – I was slowly ceasing to exist.
On exiting the clearing I could answer Rilke with a quietly determined, “Yes, I must.”
I had my reassurance: I must write. Now whether I am wasting my time or not, whether I succeed or not, even if I am any good or not, is irrelevant. I must write. And knowing for certain that this is the craft I will dedicate my life to I can’t see any feasible way of keeping it a secret. Besides, I am fed up of living underground. To echo Georgia O’ Keeffe, the important thing is “making your unknown known – and keeping the unknown always beyond you.”
And so my plans for this blog are to create a kind of writing diary, where I can engage with, and share, my purpose. Here you will find story excerpts, poetry and a record of influences and inspirations – things that ignite my imagination and confirm that there is always more mystery, more magic to discover, an unknown ahead.
This first post feels like I am leaving my diary lying open in the middle of the street, and you are all very welcome to read its pages.
It is an open letter, firstly to the writer I wish to become, and secondly to anyone who is following their own creative path. And though, at times, it may seem too difficult a path to walk, please don’t give up, because who knows what the destination will be - a book, a play, a pot, a house, an adventure, true love, life. And if you are at all unsure, do it simply because you must.
Thank you for reading.