The writing calling

The writing vocation, or thoughts on the call to write

This — a daily attempt to write a short piece about life and all the billions of tiny dots that connect us all, in our external, physical worlds and the internal worlds where activity can go on almost incessantly in our conscious and subconscious minds, all the hours of the day — is at least partly a concerted attempt to build a writing habit.

At every point of my life, I have been drawn to writing and the written word with a force that has been irresistible (at least, I have never been able to resist it). At moments of the deepest crises I have sought and found solace in the written word. During moments of levity and bliss, I have discovered in the written word vindication for my joy.

For most of that time, my default was to delve into the written words of others. I did write, but it was a day-trading sort of writing. I worked as a journalist for a couple of publishing houses, but in the end, career progression being what it is and seniority in the workplace calling for different skills and focus, it ended up that I was writing much less and business-planning and strategising much more.

And through all that the voice at the back of my head, the one that whispers in your ear in a way that, over time, becomes impossible to ignore, has encouraged me not to abandon the writing of others, but to enrich it by writing my own.

To write, because the act of writing is in itself a quiet and blissful time. To write, wherever that writing goes. To write, because not writing is impossible.

So this month, this January month, when my pattern in the past has often been to start the year with great intentions moulded not out of my own internal dreams and aspirations but out of the ambitions and the priorities and the lives of others, this month I’ve committed to writing one piece each weekday and hitting publish.

These daily musings, on Monday to Friday mornings, are as much for me as they are for anyone who might read them, although of course it is never a bad thing if you or anyone reads this and is able to take something valuable out of it, to dust off and polish and put on display in your own private world just for you.

Writing and the divine fairy dust

For me, the act of writing has always promised to connect me to the divine, or whatever you like to call that thing that seems divine: the almighty, the cosmos, the universe, Mother Nature, the infinite intelligence, the higher power, God. On occasion, that promise has been delivered, bringing with it a feeling of flow and inspiration that becomes tangible and scatters a film of bright fairy dust on everything.

I know that to experience that fairy-dust, the only thing that I can do is to keep writing and try to expect nothing in return.

In this write-and-publish daily exercise, through that strange unexplained alchemy of the way the world works, I’ve reached for different things in my reading and the right things have found me to help me write.

Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art has given me a jolt of the reality, the possibility and the compulsion that comes with the act of creating anything.

I picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic this morning in an idle moment before the workday delivered its own momentum, and the opening chapter seemed to have been written just for me. It’s a passage about a writer called Jack Gilbert, no relation to Elizabeth, who Elizabeth knew little about and never met, and who is now deceased.

Jack Gilbert’s encouragement for writers

Elizabeth followed Jack into a creative writing teaching job at the University of Tennessee and inherited his office and felt his presence even in his absence.

A student who had worked with Jack during his tenure described the advice he had given when she revealed that she might like to become a writer:

He smiled at the girl with infinite compassion and asked, “Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

I don’t know what treasures might be hidden inside me, waiting to be unearthed, but I’m working to believe they are there. The creative process is never easy. There are a thousand reasons not to do it, from “Why bother?” to “Who cares?” to “Is this just an exercise in delusional egomania?”

But if there are treasures hidden inside me, maybe this commitment to write every day can help me to break ground. Thank you for being here to bear witness to the early days of this work.

Would you like to receive my thoughts via email? As part of the Life Well Lived Project, I send out a bulletin of the stuff I’ve thought about, read, watched, enjoyed, experienced or pondered every weekend, and one longer essay (usually on the first Friday of every month). I also try to write regular shorter blogs (such as this one) on weekdays. You can sign up to receive them here.