A different way of being in the world
This morning, when I woke up to write this blog, I had a headache. I didn’t feel like a writer. I didn’t feel like a human being. I poured a mug of hot, sugarless coffee. I liked the bitter aftertaste; it made me feel better. I still didn’t feel like a writer. It took me a half an hour to write these fifty words.
If you’re just starting out as a writer, it can sometimes be hard to feel like you’re a writer inside, even harder to tell others. If you’re at a party and you’re asked what you do, it’s hard to say ‘I’m a writer’ – and not feel foolish.
A secret life
To be a writer, requires a different way of being in the world. What do I mean by that? Every writer’s journey is different. Some start writing early, as children even, while others find their way to writing later on. But all of us felt a sense of displacement – whether we were outsiders, underdogs, rebels or just shy, there was this niggly desire inside. We had a secret. We wanted to make up stories. We wanted to tell our story. We wanted to be a writer.
As writers, our job is not to get words on a page. That may shock you and maybe I should say – it’s not your only job. The best advice I got as a young writer was to pay attention to the world around me. Turn the lights and the music off, and listen to the rain. Try to find out why you’re fascinated with someone’s eye colour or the patterns on your bedcovers. Listen more than you talk when you’re at that party. Normal people have scrapbooks or photo albums on their phones.
Writers don’t. Writers have notebooks in the shrewd back corners of our minds. We’re recording everything we see – and that may feel like a betrayal of the world around you or, at least, a childish fantasy.
Call to action
When you get a sentence or a description on paper that captures – in words what you saw, felt, heard or had long forgotten – you realise writing’s power. Writing suddenly makes sense. It becomes addictive. You start to see a purpose in it. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, trust me, it will. You just have to come to the world as a stranger, a visitor, an angel with no agenda. And perhaps that’s the scary part – is putting pen to paper or opening your laptop and start turning the vague shapes in your imagination into hard, clear letters.
My headache has cleared now. I still don’t feel like a writer. I didn’t say what I really wanted to say to writers starting out their journey. Let me say this – writing is lonely. It’s the kind of loneliness that you’ll learn to love and to keep to yourself.
My best advice is this: Find time to be alone, not to write but simply to be alone and be present in a moment.
Five exercises to get you started on your writing journey:
- Go to a library or a public park, look a books and statues – don’t take notes, just wander and observe.
- Write about your favourite table as a child – who is around it? What smells do you remember? Colours?
- Try to describe the sound of a voice on the page – it could be your lover’s, your best friend’s, a teacher’s from years ago.
- Tape record your own voice when you wake up and then late at night. Listen to it again. How has your voice changed?
- Write a letter to your favourite book. Tell it why you love it so much. Don’t address it to the author but the book itself.
Look out for The Writer’s Journey – 3 Ways To Craft Your Future next week.
If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course.