Do you feel the urge to write?
If you’re reading this, you probably do. Here’s a very simple piece of advice for those who do feel that urge to write: sit down and start writing already. Don’t wait for the time to be right, because it will never be right.
I say this with some authority. I watched my husband run out of time to write the book he’d been burning to write.
If I am not careful, I’ll watch myself run out of steam to write the book I’ve wanted to write ever since I buried him 8 years ago.
“Ardently do today what must be done. Who knows? Tomorrow, death comes.”– The Buddha
The urge to write
is what my husband and I talked about on our first date. Having translated two books written by others, he told me it was time to write his own book in his own voice.
On our second date he showed me the template of his daily schedule. Every morning of the week was reserved for writing, from 8 am to midday. Except Tuesdays and Fridays when he went to yoga.
Every day he got up early and religiously did a long morning walk. Then he sat down at his desk and opened his laptop. He was enjoying early retirement and everything was in his favour to get on with it and write. But somehow he always found something else to do.
And yet he never stopped talking about the book. Every week he told me how he would get serious about it from the following Monday. Many Mondays passed but his writing remained sporadic. Writing, it turned out, wasn’t suited to his extrovert nature. It was too solitary, too slow and essentially too boring.
If you feel the urge to write, please remember this:
Writing is hard work. It’s solitary, it’s boring and it’s slow. It rarely gives instant gratification. But if you have the urge and don’t listen, you will regret it. That too I learned.
When my husband got the chance to accompany me on a 4-months study abroad program, he saw it as an opportunity to give himself a time frame. For four months he’d write while I taught.
Three weeks into the program he fractured his shoulder and remained in a body brace for 3 months, which made the physical act of writing difficult and painful.
Can you see the pattern here? Things had been in his favour and suddenly they no longer were. But we got another opportunity.
Once his shoulder had healed, we hatched a plan how to give both of us a chance to write. Because I too had a secret urge to write. After 20 years of writing and publishing in an academic voice, it was finally time to explore a more creative writing voice. Using my long service leave, I negotiated a year-long sabbatical. It was to be the chance of a lifetime.
But luck was no longer on our side. On the first day of our ‘writing sabbatical’, my husband found a pea-sized lump behind his right ear. Four weeks later he had open lung surgery to remove the first of many tumours.
Overnight my husband became, in his own words, a dead man walking. It wasn’t something he felt called to write about and neither did I. Paralysed by fear, all I managed to write during those two long years of his illness was a journal. Many journals in fact.
When the cancer spread to his brain and time began to run out, the urge to write his book returned. He produced several chapters, he even submitted a short story to an anthology. But slowly, after two operations to remove a recurring brain tumour, he became too tired to concentrate. He’d nod off in front of his laptop.
Four years after we met, my husband died not having written the book he’d felt called to write.
Why am I sharing this story with you? Because since I started to teach creative writing, I’ve met countless people who feel that same urgency to write but fail to follow through.
Many of us carry stories inside that need releasing.
And many of us do what my husband did. We – yes, I am one of those people – we come up with brilliant plans, we tell the world about our passion to write, we make genuine commitments and then … we stall. We become busy, we become bored, we become distracted. It happens to all of us.
Something else that will happen to all of us, is that while we’re busy finding excuses not to write, the story we so desperately wanted to write fades and possibly dies. It looses its urgency. That’s why it’s so important to get on with it and write while the heat is in you.
“Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
It’s 10 years this month since my husband’s cancer diagnosis and I still haven’t written the book about how my life fell apart, how I dug myself out of the darkness using writing as my crutch and what I learned from it.
I’ve written in creative bursts, followed by dry spells. I’ve written plenty, but I haven’t produced a first draft yet. And all of a sudden that burning desire has diminished.
I’ve lost the hot desperation to release the story, because time has done its thing and released me from it.
Today I had a frank conversation with my journal and asked it some tough questions.
What if I were given a death sentence tomorrow? What would I regret?
You got it. Not having written that book.
How about you?