Friday, September 14, 2012

Writing: I Needed a Pep Talk Today, So This is What I Said

I dream. I imagine that I live in a world where I can be daring, where I can without the judgment of others, without asking for outside approval be myself. It is a world where I can follow my heart’s true desire. It is a world where I can freely do what it is that I want to do and what I feel called to do. It is a world of hope and possibility.

I am a writer. I say that with conviction. It is, today, an affirmation of who I am. I am a writer not because of my novel, Freestyle Love, not because of my other published works but because there is, deep within me, a will far greater than my own that compels me to write. It is a calling. I have chosen to heed the call.

And, so, I write. I write because each morning when I awake, and at night when I lay my head down to sleep, writing is what becomes me. Writing quells within me, gnaws at my heart, enlivens my soul. There is a surge of adrenaline like when I dash for the finish line at the end of a race when my pen touches the page. Words dance onto the page, laying the foundation of the stories within me that I long to tell.

I write because of the beauty that is this world. Like this morning, when I was out for my morning run, the bright sun beaming into my eyes. The grateful, “Merci!” from the woman I held the door for as I exited the movie theatre. The generous smiles of the staff at Le Tassé where, each day, I enjoy great coffee as I write. The way my cats hover at the kitchen door at the crinkling of the cat food bag. The blessing of friendships, new and old.

My day is not complete if I have not put in time at the page. It’s like trying to go through the day without having a coffee. When I am caffeine-deprived, I am cranky. When I do not write, or when I don’t write enough, I am irksome and irritable. In a way, I lose my humanity. That is why each day I show up at the page because if I don’t I risk losing myself. Writing grounds me in the day, helps me to be present in the present. Writing, I hang on to myself.

Lately, I’ve let myself get caught up in a bout of self-criticism, doubting my ability as a writer. And that’s like doubting who I am. As a writer, the minute my work enters the public domain, it becomes fair game for the critics and, by extension, me along with it. Good or bad, I say to the critics: Bring it on! I’ve succeeded where a lot of people have not because despite the letters of rejection (and over the course of my writing career there have been many and there will be more), despite the good reviews, in spite of the bad reviews, I have persevered. I have held steadfast to my faith — in my work, in myself. I have been unwavering in the belief that this is my path. This is the one thing in my life that I feel compelled to do.

If I had worked all these years on my writing with the sole focus of becoming rich and famous, I would have given up a long time ago. Between 2006 and 2011, I submitted the manuscript that became Freestyle Love to roughly a dozen publishers before it was finally accepted for publication. There were times when, after receiving a rejection letter, I shoved the manuscript into a drawer, ready to give up on it. Then I would come back to it, see small ways in which it could be improved, and send it out again. Throughout that process, I kept writing first drafts of other novels, short stories and essays. Why? Writing is the passion that consumes me. Writing is all of me. Writing is who I am.

A few weeks ago, while attending an event in Montréal and “working the room,” I had a brief conversation with a man I ended up standing next to as we gathered to listen to a few speeches. When the speeches were done, the guy introduced himself. The conversation went like this:

Him: “So what do you do?”

Me: “I’m a writer and painter. You?”

Him: “I’m a civil servant. Have you published anything?”

Me: “A novel, and several short stories and essays.”

Him: “But how do you make a living?”

Me: “How do you?”

The man politely excused himself. I never thought that it would be “easy” being a writer. Maybe I have a different vision of life than most people. I don’t know. But I have always believed when we commit, whole-heartedly, to what it is that we love to do, it is then that providence moves. Yes, there may be times when I wonder where next month’s rent is going to come from, should I splurge and buy fresh tomatoes this week over canned … But you know what? I have a good life because I am happy in what I am doing. I am doing exactly what it is that I love to do.

I think Helen Keller got it right: “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

Are you being faithful to your worthy purpose? I know I am.

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