Writing in a way that will save your life

Page after PageThis holiday week I’ve slowly started to re-read Heather Sellers’ Page after Page: Discovering the confidence and passion you need to start writing and keep writing (no matter what). Whenever I find myself in need of direction and sustenance for a writing life, Heather comes through every time:

“Writing as a way of life, writing in a way that will save your life, has a very interesting dynamic to it. To be successful as a writer, you have to cultivate two oppositional sides of your personality: the secret-keeper you, and the public chatty bold you. They’re both in there, and they both deserve the honor of practice.”

I have felt this tug and pull recently: the yearning for secret writing, what Sellers describes as the writing “as if no one will ever know you write”—ever—kind of writing, and the need for a public writing life, where words are shared and discussed and brought off the page into a greater world.

Learning to live with and develop these often conflicting needs is not unique to writers. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of, among other books, Flow and Creativity, tells us that complexity, especially the embodiment of seemingly opposite traits, is necessary for creativity to flourish:

“Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an ‘individual,’ each of them is a ‘multitude.'” Read More

Interestingly, it’s not the public writing life I need to work on at the moment. No, it’s the secret writing life, the words written every day for my eyes only, words that may or may not eventually be read by others, Young GIrl Writing a Love Letterwords that “count” for the mere reason that they exist. Unless we build that kind of relationship with our writing—the kind where we can be alone together for hours while the world turns round and round, like two lovers content with each other’s company, oblivious to everything else—we will have difficulty enduring the difficult times when either ourselves or our writing has a wandering eye, when we start to get on each other’s nerves and are tempted to call the whole thing off.

The metaphor of writing as lover is from Sellers, and she urges that the only way to make time stand still (and here we are once again reminded of Csikszentmihalyi and his theory of flow) is to fall in love.

How will you woo your writing this weekend?

Tips from Heather Sellers on developing “your secret writing self”:

  • Do exercises for writers instead of just reading them.
  • Stop talking about your writing, how hard it is, what you are doing, and your dreams. Instead, write.
  • Make a space in your life… where no one can enter. It can be as simple as a notebook you carry around, a special pen, a time of day.
  • Practice being quiet. Let other people talk. Listen, like you did when you were a kid, and you openly stared and absorbed everything. Be quiet. Leave some room in yourself for words to reverberate.

2 thoughts on “Writing in a way that will save your life

  1. One word: Journal.
    I guess I do too much secret writing and not enough open writing..because, as I look over my shoulder here, I can see a pile of about 12 journals…all written in. My problem is deciding whether to destroy them or leave them behind whenever I take off for greener pastures, so to speak.
    I should mention that I also have a pile of fresh clean journals, just waiting to be written in. Ahhh.
    I didn’t intend for them to have a secret writing purpose, although I would consider them at least semi-confidential. But the fact is, I write in one almost every day…not for practice, but because I need to. I don’t know why, but I do, and the practice/secret writing is a happy side effect.

  2. Wow, this really speaks to me right now!! I’m at a strange time in my life, and for the first time ever I am coming to grips with the fact that I NEED to write, for myself. Making time to write is no longer an indulgence… It is an outlet, cathartic and life-giving. Writing is good for my soul, and honest writing– where secret meets public– is even better.

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