The Most Common Writing Advice (is kinda stupid)

A common piece of writing advice, one which has always bewildered me, is this:

Force yourself to write. Write often. Write at least one thing per day. Discipline; Practice; Commitment-to-craft.

Strange.  I never thought of writing as a choice.

At least, I don’t recall ever choosing to invite semi-colons into my most intimate moments.  I never “pushed myself” to scribble in so many half finished journals. The act of typing as the hours slip by–four, five, six–barely stopping to recall “Wait. I am a human.  I have to go to the bathroom, don’t I?”

I don’t remember signing up for that.

If being a writer were a choice, if it came down to hours logged with a dictionary and office chair discipline…well, I’m not sure why anyone would bother with it at all. I certainly wouldn’t.  Creative writing seems like strange brand of madness, rather than the product of a determined spirit.

Slicing and dicing phrases, posting it publicly, feeling unsure–that’s just how it has always been. I don’t write because have to, because I know how to, or because I want to know how to. I write because I don’t know how not to.  It’s a curse, if anything. Right now, I should be studying for a test. I should also be sending much shorter, less heartfelt emails. I should certainly be less concerned about my word choice in text messages–or word choice in general, really.  And my quality of life would definitely improve if I weren’t constantly composing blog posts in my head.

Constantly.  It’s weird, I know, but I cannot stop.

Recently, a few people have asked me why I blog, how I update this blog so frequently, how I think of what to say.  I suck at answering those questions. The only response I have is: sputter, sputter, “Because I don’t not update the blog frequently.”

Yeah. Untangle that one.

I’m sure the sentence a day commitment, the brick-by-brick (or Bird By Bird, as the talented Anne Lamott would say) building towards a masterpiece works for some people.  It must.  For someone who finds writing fun or therapeutic, the advice of  “Anything! Anything! Write anything!” works, I suppose. It’s not an unhealthy resolution. My truth is in no way universal.

But generally, I would much rather read the story of someone who can’t bear to hold that story in. I want to read words which are necessary to someone–not a sprint towards an empty wordcount, not a checkmark on the bucket list.

And I want to write like that, too.

In Elie Wiesel’s testimonial novel, Night, he echoes the sentiment:

Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write.

As a Holocaust survivor, a man needing to bear witness, a writer with a message, Wiesel’s works were just that necessary. (More necessary, of course, than anything I have to say.)

When you look at Weisel’s career, or the career of any writer, you realize–for these men and women, a typewriter is an extension of the soul.  Committing to writing like you would a workout routine or piano practice just doesn’t make sense. What happened to the madness? What about the urgency?

When I have something to write, I do it. I do it, among other things, as an offering to the readers because ‘You guys! I just thought of this thing! I put it into words that kinda-sorta-sometimes work.  I hope it helps you.  I hope it helps me.  It’s sad, I know, but this is really all  have to offer the world right now. So, will you read? Please? Can we talk?’

This offering only works as long as it’s me writing–me, needing to write, having something to say.  Not my arbitrary need-to-put-words-together.  Not a clog of cliches on the internet, stealing time from much more important words.

Just me.  To you.  It really only seems to work as long as you are there reading.  Every time you stop by, you are accepting my selfish, crazy offering.  Thank you for that.

So, maybe you are a writer.  Or maybe you’re a reader, or a thinker, or a speaker, or a listener…or maybe, your art is something entirely different (but equally unavoidable).  Whatever your offering is, you should do it. Do it actively. Do it because you need to. Do it because it will make the world a better place. Do it because it’s who you are.

Do it because you wouldn’t be able to stop, even if I told you to.

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Travelling Abroad Advice for Canadians: Crazy (But Accurate) Edition

Today, I spent some time on the phone with an expert on Canadian safety and protocol while traveling abroad. He was…quirky. The phone call was informative, for sure, but it was also hilarious.  Here are some highlights:

“Make sure you give copies of all your papers to someone who loves you. I define ‘someone who loves you’ as ‘someone who put up with you for your teenage years and still talks to you.'”

“You have to Register with DFAIT if you’re a Canadian going anywhere abroad for more than 2 weeks. Otherwise, you’re just being stupid.”

“If you find yourself in North Korea, you go to the Swedish Embassy. If you find yourself elsewhere and there’s no Canadian Embassy around, go to the Australian Embassy. Don’t try the American Embassy…if you think they’re going to help you, you’re dead wrong.”

“You have to be careful.  Washington DC is kinda like Vanier.”

“And now comes the part where I talk to you about Love. Ready? Okay. When you are in love, your brain chemistry changes.  I get it. You’re 20.  If you call me and you’re in trouble but you say ‘Oh, but I’m in love!’ I will not judge you. You have no control over that. It’s just your brain.”

“Canada is the only country in the world where we elect people, they pass laws, then people don’t follow the laws, and no one cares. Other countries aren’t like that. You should probably follow laws outside of Canada.”

“You’re a student of history, so I love you already. Everyone should be a student of history.”

“I might seem like a nice guy right now, but I can be an asshole when I negotiate. I will bust in on a gang and get you out of there.”

“I believe in the Trudeau years when everyone could do whatever they wanted and just had to be accountable to the consequences. Like, you can be involved with drugs while you’re living abroad if you want, but if you do I won’t care about you. ”

Word.

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