I left a still relatively green Virginia last week to spend a few days where I was born, in cold, white, Upstate New York. I visited with some friends and family, but could not completely put my writing on hold. I never can, really. If the blogs aren’t calling my name, the newest novel is, and so I spent quite a bit of time writing during “down time,” and thinking about writing when I was occupied elsewhere. One day, when nothing much was going on and I could fit in a few hours of writing, my hostess told me that she was shocked by how long I could spend typing away at the keyboard. “I’d go out of my mind,” she said. But then, she isn’t a writer.
Back home in Virginia once again, I posted a quote on my sister blog, Writing New Worlds, from one of my favorite authors, Natalie Goldberg, and it read: “I met a doctor the other night who told me he had always wanted to be a writer. I nodded. People always tell me that…Then I thought to myself, ‘You know, I’ve never met a writer who wanted to be anything else. They might bitch about something they’re writing or about their poverty, but they never say they want to quit…and if they do abandon it they become crazy, drunk or suicidal.’ Writing is elemental.” **
Truth. A born writer wants to write. A born writer can’t not write, or at least, she can’t not write for long. She does other things, surely, or she can’t be much of a person either, let alone any kind of writer. She walks the back roads with the dog. She lays in bed at night with her husband, whispering in the dark. She holds her children and feeds them and worries over them and would die for them if it would help things. She is, thank God, changed by them. She lives, yes, but a big part of her living is her writing. A born writer can’t get away from writing any more than she can separate herself from loving her kids, loving her man. It’s deep in her DNA. It’s as elemental as breathing. Take it away, and she can’t feel whole. No, she really can’t.
On the surface, writing seems to allow us to flex our creative muscles. But it is not that easy: through it we stumble into our murkiest thoughts, we’re forced to work out how we really feel about the chaos and the calamity and the changes and the surprises. Writing becomes the womb we run to when we feel weak or overwhelmed or terrified or lost. It entertains us while others around us complain that there’s nothing on TV. Writing helps us make sense of the darkness. Or, if it does not help us make sense of it, it helps us slow things down enough so we can at least catch our breath, get our bearings.
That’s what writing does. And only a writer sees all the possibilities in the simple act of curling fingers around pencil and laying that tip upon rough paper; in the act of arching fingers over keyboard and bringing them down upon keys.
Writing is blood and bone and breath to those of us who were born to do it. Writing doesn’t make me go out of my mind, it has kept me, often, from going out of my mind—though sometimes, I admit, I’ve gotten dangerously close to that abyss. Writing has been the rope I’ve clung to at the edge.
Jean Foster Akin
photo by JFA; please do not use except by permission