‘I accept’

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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.

I accept.

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20 comments

  1. Hello lovely, just read your post on the train to Londres. It’s brought such a surge of happiness to my heart & a giant smile for how brave and wise you are and for all the exciting adventures that lie ahead of you (and selfishly of course I’m hoping I can be a part of it and see you soon!). I know that to tell you I think you’re not only a brilliant writer but that you are writing brilliantly NOW, is a bit like telling someone on a diet that they’re ‘not fat’ but, you are and always will be a brilliant writer, these pauses are just moments, maybe they’re here for a reason so that you can let real life in?… Anyway I’m rambling and have just tripped down a curb emailing as I march to a meeting! Love you v much LX

  2. Hi Hannah. This post brought a giant smile to my face. One because I am so happy that the words are flowing for you again (and I LOVE reading your posts) and two, because I can relate to a lot of what you said. I am lucky to meditate/study under the loving guidance of a Shambalan Buddhist teacher & writer named Susan Piver (The Open Heart Project). She lives in Massachusetts and started a global online meditation Sangha (Tibetan for community) to connect like-minded people who couldn’t physically get to join a Sangha. Never have a met such a non-judgemental, supportive group of people who totally embrace the philosophy of loving kindness<3

    During a really stressful time last year, in total desperation one morning, I reached out to the Sangha for support. And their two greatest words of advice were to firstly 'sit' with the pain and let it wash over you and secondly, to have faith in the Buddhist concept of impermanence…this too shall pass.

    At first, like you and the post it note idea, I thought seriously??? I am struggling here guys and this is what you're offering me! But then I went away and, knowing that these people were so genuine and kind, thought 'they wouldn't say it if they didn't think it would help.' So I too chose to just 'sit' with the situation, warts and all (kind of like you accepting it). I allowed myself to feel the pain, the frustration, the sense of total overwhelm, the belief that I was an empty cup with nothing left to give anyone and guess what, I was still here. I let all that pain in but I was stronger than it could ever be. Then I drew my mind towards the idea of the impermanence, not so much in relation to the situation (because it wasn't going to go away) but the impermanence of how I was feeling about that situation. How I felt about A, B, C today may be the same this week, even next month, but eventually it would change as NOTHING stays the same forever.

    They talk about the proverbial 'light at the end of the tunnel', and in my case this was it. When I recognised that I wouldn't always feel this way, accepted that sometimes I would feel great and other times like crap, it didn't feel so daunting, so all encompassing.

    Coming out the other side, I am now finally really reconnecting with my writing. My novel kind of stalled when my dad had a fall last November, and passed away on Christmas Eve. January, February and March just seemed to happen in a dense fog but now I can start to see my way clear again. And like you, the words are starting to flow again. There is still the ever-present emerging writer doubt and fear but thanks to some words of wisdom from the amazing Dianne Blacklock (whose course I am doing at the NSW Writer's Centre at the moment), I am starting to push through the fear and just do it.

    May I just say one final thing Hannah. Although you felt that you had lost your ability to write at times, when you did write it was breathtaking. Your ability to write such eloquent posts during the various stages of your grief and the gift of sharing your innermost thoughts and insight with us, was something I am in total awe of. So many people felt you reach out from the depths of the page and offer them hope, a sense of connection and an 'I get it' when they needed that.

    I can't wait to read the next Hannah Richell novel and I feel lucky to have stumbled across your blog almost two years ago.

    Much love, Shell.x

    1. Wonderful piece, thank you so much for sharing this so beautifully. I shall treasure it.
      I already related to your books written before the shock loss of your husband – somehow the depth was already there… and I’m very picky, since my own loss when I was 36 after an all too brief marriage. So ofcourse I ached for you when I then read your personal story – it was almost as if you knew this bereavement before it actually happened to you, if that makes any sense?

      I accept…. I shall take that along with me in my daily life too

      Thank you,
      Min

  3. Thank you, as my mother enters in to month 5 in hospital and just when I felt I had no more language for living on “Planet unwell mother” you provide me with THE word, accept.

    As it resonantls in my head I feel tightest and heaviness shift to lightness and FLOW.

    Thanks so much for your generous sharing.

    I accept.

    Jo

  4. Fabulous post, Hannah!

    Some days I am too unwell to write, no matter how much I want to. My brain is so fogged I can barely speak coherently let alone be creative with words and characters.

    And so, on those days, I have tried to come to terms with it. Yet I know I’ve not really accepted it at a deep level. There’s still been a pocket of resistance trying to fight its way out, an “I don’t want this!”, a desire to change ‘how things are’. It’s something I’m doing my best to improve on – to truly allow the flow and to trust in it …. and to be at peace with it.

    Acceptance and surrender are words which can be used easily, but can be some of the hardest to put into practice. Thank you for sharing your journey and insight, and offering an illustration of how to integrate them.

  5. As a big fan of your work, I am so excited for whatever your next will be, but there’s certainly no rush. I can re-read your books whenever I feel like getting away and I can still love the words you have written. If it takes you a day, a week, a decade, I’ll always be a fan. You have to be ready. Much love. x

  6. Hi Hannah – thank you for writing that.

    I think sometimes, when the words land on the page clumsily, we judge them too harshly. Often, if you look back later, there’s a gold earring glinting quietly, under the piles of sweaty socks and rotting cabbages. It might be a way of looking at things, a phrase or even a single word. Or an understanding of a mind that struggles with words, for future dialogue or characters or real life.

    Which isn’t to diminish the pain and panic of feeling that an ease with words has deserted us, for ever. We forget that the words are woven into us.
    Sometimes they get knotted, but they can always be untangled, with time. Our words are the tapestry of everything we’ve ever heard, ever read or ever imagined. Sometimes the moths arrive and we have to darn the holes their babies chew out. It’s that scrabbling for scraps of matching thread that panics us.

    I’ve gone too metaphorical, so I’ll stop now! Thank you for arranging your words on the page so effectively. Your post was a pleasure to read. It’s a pleasure to know that you’ve found a way to take a long view and I’m grateful that you shared it.

    Best wishes
    Elaine

  7. You are a fabulous writer and you will have so many more stories to tell. Every post you write reminds me why I love your books. I can’t wait to read your next, whenever it comes. Lots of love to you as ever, Cesca x

  8. Thanks Hannah – I needed to read this today.
    You are amazing and have such a beautiful way with words.
    I accept too.

  9. My craft is not an art like yours. More a set of rules to design and work within to make stuff happen. To get things done. But even in such a space where creativity is not often called upon, I used to experience flow daily. Days that whirred and spun along in a perpetual motion kind of way. But that all stopped when my wife passed away. The machine no longer hummed by itself. I no longer even wanted to hop on it. I’m still not sure I do. But every now and then it starts again. A day that passes under is own steam. I often don’t notice at the time. I wish I did and could analyse the circumstance. Those days seem to be increasing in frequency, but it’s hard to tell. I hope they are. I want them to. I need them to. It’s great to read your words.

    1. Hi Trent, I saw an acquaintance last night who’d lost her father recently. She had that glazed, raw look of the newly grieving. It reminded me of my own glazed state when my close friend ended her life last year. At the time, I didn’t think I’d write again; it seemed selfish and unnecessary. I still haven’t written a new post in my blog, but I will. Over time, the need to write returned because it is part of me; part of feeling whole. And that’s the thing; we are whole even if we feel broken to pieces or full of fractures. You are still you. There is still joy and pleasure and experiences to have. I hope you find them soon. Much love. Kamille

      1. Well said Kamille. I lost my dad on Christmas Eve and am only just now finding my way back to the words. They are a quintessential part of who I am. I am sorry for your loss.x

  10. I am off to write a post-it-note for above my writing desk. Thank you for a beautiful post Hannah. I accept, too.

  11. I am grateful to have read this post today Hannah, and grateful for you; for being, and sharing. I hope that some day the story that you are living might become a book that will teach, reassure and inspire those who are facing their own dark and difficult chapters. I have found much truth in value in what you have shared over the last two years. Blessings.

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