Life and the Art of Writing

Writing a novel is a lot like life.

I’ve realized this, or at least it’s been coming to me slowly, as I work on my latest book. The idea seemed to float through my mind months ago, but then it was only several strands… unconnected, undefined. It began to play out in my thoughts, becoming clearer and more colourful as imagined situations took shape. Before long, I was excited, ready to begin on what I already knew to be a lengthy and arduous journey.

Perhaps what I’m saying is that life is that journey. We don’t have the power to plan out our lives like a writer who structures the plot carefully around their action. We really don’t have much control at all. But we do have dreams. Our minds flit to possibilities that are endlessly appealing, and imaginations are often unbridled. We see the way we want our life to be and expect it to fit within our mould.

When I start writing, I usually have a plan. I sit with my notebook on my lap and vague ideas of where that particular chapter will lead me. But I don’t know exactly. Most of the time, I end up in unexplored territory. I venture into realms of creative possibility that surprise me because I hadn’t known they were there. If I fight them, I go nowhere. I find myself stranded at a crossroads, in the midst of a plan that hasn’t unfurled and unable to transition between my neatly lined ideas. Flexibility is necessary. On life and on the page. Without it, there is no success and there is certainly no happiness. That’s not to mention all the beauty the inflexible person has simply never seen.

Writing also requires discipline and the ability to follow through. I hope I am able to see my current project to completion, and as I am two-thirds of the way through now, it seems likely. However, there are moments at every step of the way when the task seems too challenging. I wonder if my ideas are too ambitious, or if the story will ever unfold on the page the way it did in my mind and my heart. Sometimes I am just too tired to write. There are two destinations that I simply cannot seem to bridge, because I really don’t know how.

At these times I want to give up. And I think it is true to say that every one of us has these moments in different facets of our lives. Times when we feel discouraged and dejected, when we don’t feel we have the strength to finish what we started or the motivation to do what we once wanted. Thankfully these moments pass, if we let them. Feelings are fleeting, and they are really just feelings. I may have to step aside from my work for a while until a way presents itself to me, but when I return to it in a different frame of mind, my courage is lifted.

The last point I have to make on this comparison between life and the art of writing has to do with doubt. Doubt is such a powerful tool, but one that is only used against us. It is disabling and disarming and it prevents so much beauty from appearing and keeps so much goodness hidden. I doubt my work at many points along the way: That was stupid. Nothing will ever come of this. No one will ever want to read it. You’re just not very good.

The truth is, insecurity is the opponent most capable of holding me back. As a writer, the words I create are unlike those of any other writer in the world. I am unique. In the same way, every single person on this earth must forge an unmatched path. You have something special and beautiful to offer the world, and if you keep it hidden because you are afraid it is not good enough, no one else will ever see it.

Give yourself the freedom to be flexible, hopeful and confident in your life, the things you do and who you are. I think this quote sums up the heart of what I am trying to say quite nicely:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy… that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.” -Martha Graham