The number of books currently sitting on my floor, and on a shelf I keep my recently purchased books, sits at 95. 95 unread books filled with ideas, waiting to be opened. Ok, those are borderline hoarder numbers, but it’s something I think about quite often. One such thought: the time spent reading could be better used to create my own ideas for example. A valid statement given I spend a lot of time reading the words of others rather than my own. The converse is that I read to generate ideas, finding links in my own mind as I contemplate during the rest of my day. Entrepreneurial ideas, writing prompts, and even the simple thought of having learned something new. All reasons to support having so many books ready to go.
It’s strange how these ideas, at least for me, seem to tumble around inside our minds much like a block of wet clothes just starting out in the dryer. This quote from Margaret Atwood’s book On Writers and Writing has stuck with me for a few weeks now:
“As for writing, most people secretly believe they themselves have a book in them, which they would write if they could only find the time. And there’s some truth to this notion. A lot of people do have a book in them – that is they have had an experience that other people might want to read about. But this is not the same as “being a writer.””
It’s stuck there because there is a relentless level of self-doubt quietly simmering in my subconscious. Although I try not to add any fuel, quotes like this seem to cast tinder right into the middle. It contrasts with the confident approach to being a writer previously seen in Jeff Goin’s book I Am A Writer. I vacillate between the two poles and have come to some level of acceptance that this may always be the case. It’s there, I enjoy the process, so I’m a writer and “I’m a writer”. Margaret goes on to liken this experience to grave-digging:
“Or, to put it in a more sinister way; everyone can dig a hole in a cemetery, but not everyone is a grave-digger.”
I’m here throwing words into a post and perhaps I’m not a writer. There goes the tinder! I’m digging holes and calling myself a grave-digger, but perhaps I’m actually out there just digging holes in my back yard.
Where did the writer in me disappear? I recall vividly being a big writer in elementary school; writing giant fantastical stories that I would then submit to the class storybook. It was never about quality but rather the sheer size and fantastical nature of the story that was my guide post. I remember always being spurred on by my mom, and her asking “what next?” It was a creative outlet that I slowly let dissolve.
Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way has been challenging me each week with writing tasks, and in Week 2 she questions who our creative enemies were that helped erect these walls, or blocks. I remember the stories, I remember excelling in Language Arts class through junior high, and I remember having my work torn apart in high school English class. I can picture the teacher but sadly I don’t recall her name, not that it really matters at this point. My unnamed creative enemy. As a student focused on doing well, it became apparent with my poor English grades, that I’d never be a writer, and the idea was scrapped. No blame here because being a writer wasn’t a dream I carried with me; it was something I enjoyed, and yet, I was quick to drop it altogether.
The exercise was designed to recover a sense of identity and I hadn’t considered creative enemies until the question was asked. Perhaps a reason why statements such as Atwood’s have a ring of truth to them. They trigger those buried recollections of poor English grades achieved, as I clung to the bottom of the honour roll. Thankfully, there were never any grades for reading, and that passion managed to stay with me. Writing reared it’s head throughout University, but the connection with enjoyment was lost. History classes afforded me ample opportunity to write, but in my mind, it was the least enjoyable part. History classes to be were all about the learning aspect and not me trying to re-tell it. In hindsight it was not the ideal attitude to have when it came to writing history papers. It wasn’t until I was gifted a book called Writing Down Your Soul, by Janet Connor, that the idea of writing as a form of therapy spoke to me. The slow habit of writing in a journal developed sporadically as a result. A progression of creative books followed, along with a steady dose of mindfulness and daily meditation, and vulnerability crept back into my life. The walls built were toppling, and no longer was I focused on my own deep seated criticisms. Julia Cameron has referred to this as a normal path to self-recovery:
“There is a recognizable ebb and flow to the process of recovering our creative selves. As we gain strength, so will some of the attacks of self-doubt. This is normal, and we can deal with these stronger attacks when we see them as symptoms of recovery.”
The story is a digression but the digging holes analogy sticks with me. If all I ever accomplish is digging holes then I’m good with that. The suspicion that all books by writers, on writing, are going to show a long lineage of writing history, fuels my concerns. Most, if not all, writers have written their entire lives, published early, and ground away for years in various forms of success. My writing life stopped 20 years ago, took a prolonged break, and started up again creatively a year ago. So be it! We have to own our stories and mine isn’t a story about a writer. Yet.
This started as a comment about the number of books unread on my shelf, perhaps, because creatively I still feel more inclined to read other people’s words then my own. A novice writer, without a confident voice at this point, and happy to gather ideas and writing prompts from others. 95 books are in queue all with the potential to trigger the next idea. Even if I am digging holes in my backyard, there is always the knowledge, that at any time, I can go inside and read a book.