I am a writer. I spend my days stringing words together to create stories. It’s a lovely job and I’ve been lucky that publishers have wanted to share a little of my work.
Only my writing hasn’t been going so well lately. In recent months, the days I’ve spent at my desk have felt hard. Broken even. The parts of my brain that used to allow me to daydream and wander the maze of my imagination have not been functioning. I have felt stifled. Devoid of creativity. And the words I have written have not been good words. There has been no momentum, as if the story I’ve been trying to tell doesn’t fully belong to me. I’ve become a writer who cannot write. A storyteller without a story. An imposter.
Amidst this struggle, I have found myself thinking about my identity as a writer; about how bad it feels to be a writer who can’t write. I miss the ‘flow’, that point when you lose sight of yourself sitting there at the desk and the words just fall over themselves onto the paper and you are so lost in the flurry of them that you don’t lift your head from the keyboard for ages. I miss that welcome loss of self that comes when you are fully connected to an idea, committed to its creation.
Lately, when I have sat at my desk, I’ve felt judgement. There has been a voice on my shoulder whispering criticism and prodding my self-doubt. Chatting about this struggle with a wise person recently, I was offered some simple advice: accept. Accept the bad writing days. Relax into them. Allow them to just be. The wise one suggested I go so far as to write ‘I accept’ on a post-it note and stick it above my desk where I can see it. Every day. I nodded, and tried to look enthusiastic but listening to her advice, I felt sceptical. A post-it note? Right.
Acceptance. It’s a word that I have been thinking about a lot recently. It’s certainly something that I have discussed before with close friends, in relation to loss and life. It’s also something that was addressed in an evening class I attended on the Buddhist approach to unwanted loss and change. Late last year, on a steamy Sydney night, I attended a gathering at a local church hall, crept into the back and sat on an uncomfortable creaky chair to listen. The teacher that night told us how we humans, when facing unwanted change and loss, often fight the event. Our brains’ automatic response is an internal shout of, ‘No, no, no‘. We fight and resist. We feel in every fibre of our being: I don’t want this. The teacher pointed out that by reacting in this way we add to the stress and mental trauma of a situation. After all, the ‘no‘ doesn’t change anything. Instead, the Buddhist way is to observe the emotion and the pain, and then to simply say, ‘I accept.’
A little like my friend’s post-it note suggestion, this teaching at first seemed bewildering and, if I’m honest, a little offensive. Accept the pain of loss and change? How could it be that simple?
But time does strange things to the resistance in our brains and after a while, I realised I had nothing to lose by trying. So more recently, whenever I’ve felt overwhelmed, or had to face something I really don’t want to be happening, I have tried to fight the ‘no‘ instinct and turned to face the situation, whatever it is with a deep breath and an, ‘I accept’. Long traffic jam: I accept. My child having a massive tantrum: I accept. Feeling unbearably lost or sad: I accept.
And remembering this, I did write that post-it note and I stuck it above my desk … And of course, since then, something strange has started to happen. I have experienced something of a change. Slowly, I feel my heart and my head filling with stories once more. I recognise the itch to lay them down. I sit at my desk more readily and lift my head after a couple of hours at the computer, surprised at the new word count sitting in the corner of the screen. And it’s no coincidence, I don’t think, that with these feelings comes a new return of ideas and imagination and the first taste of that wonderful flow.
It’s a flow that I think extends beyond my writing too. I find myself daydreaming once more of travel and adventures – of the freedom that faces me to create a new life. I say ‘yes’ more quickly to friends and opportunities that are coming my way. I laugh more frequently. I am seeking out new experiences, new friends, new ideas. I feel open and accepting of whatever might be coming my way. In whatever form.
My heart no longer feels like an empty void. It is as if a door has opened and I can feel the world rushing in, in the most exhilarating way. Suddenly, every day feels like a gift – every morning a beginning. It feels a little like falling in love – falling in love with life. With possibility. With the smallest moments in my days that make me feel happy and alive. Accepting the good moments when life seems to make sense … and accepting those moments when life feels more pointless and dark, knowing that by accepting it all, the light does return. It’s as if I can suddenly bear my own my life again. The good and the bad. It is mine – my story – and I can carry it. I don’t always like it, but I own it and it has become a part of who I am.
I recognise the need to show up each day and invest in the things that hold the most value to me: writing, friendship, love, art, connection, life. I am gently reaching for more: for something greater than my own experience. It’s a relief to feel greedy for life again – for all of its joy and emotion. This is part of a larger transformation; but I also recognise it as a surrender. I am opening myself up to being vulnerable once more – to failure, to the potential for more hurt and pain. It is scary, but as the saying goes, a life lived in fear is a life half-lived.
I am a writer. And I am writing again. I am ready to own my stories again – both the one I am living, and the ones I want to tell through my writing. Some days I stare at the note above my desk and think, ‘I accept’. And some days I don’t even notice that note, because I am head down and lost in a world of ideas. And it feels good.
I have been so grateful for the messages and comments some of you have sent me in past months, asking about my writing. On the darker days they have been a reminder of who I can be, and what I am capable of and I hope that, all things being well, I might post more details here soon of what I am working on. In the meantime? I accept that these things take time, hard work, and patience.