I’ve always been attracted to writers. Whenever I am in a new place, the first place I want to go is to a book store or a library. All those words, all those stories, written by those amazing people who do the difficult work of creating something new out of words on a page: writers.
Recently, I enrolled in a workshop for women writers. It’s the first writing workshop I have ever attended; my writing before had always been private, for my entertainment and enlightenment only. I wasn’t planning to come out of the workshop with anything publishable. In fact, I didn’t really know why I was going to the workshop at all, because I had just discovered (by using my own coaching techniques) that I am not cut out to write fiction and that my beloved Grandma’s assumption that one day I would write the great American novel was probably just pure folly. I am attracted to poetry, memoir, and creative non-fiction, despite my not having felt compelled to dedicate much time to those modes of creative writing.
I wondered, then: Why was I so keen on attending this workshop despite my ambivalence about writing?
I like being around writers. I like talking to writers. I feel a deep kinship with writers. Simply put, writers are some of my favorite people. And here’s why:
1. Writers think (and most of them enjoy it). This might sound funny, or like a slap in the face to non-writers, but it’s obvious that writers spend a lot of time thinking. I’d venture that they are on a par with scientists when it comes to how much time in an average day is spent thinking. And they are typically not thinking only about themselves! Instead, they busy their brains thinking about people, story, plot, details, human nature, psychology, emotions, motivations, logic, reality, fantasy, contingencies--in the process of writing a book, story, article, or poem, writers think about all of these things, typically very deeply and for many hours a day. Having conversations with people who think about all of these things makes me exceedingly happy. We speak the same language, and we use that language to think, think, think.
2. Writers understand people (or try to). Related to all of that thinking, writers, perhaps even more than psychologists, try to understand people so they can write meaningfully about them. Whether a writer is crafting an interview piece about a celebrity, writing a poem about penises, developing an historical novel, or writing in her personal journal about her experience the other day at the board meeting, writers spend an extraordinary amount of time seeing, feeling, and seeking to understand the behavior of people--both fictional and real. And anyone who knows me knows that one of the drivers of my entire life has been to understand people. I gravitated strongly toward the study of psychology, and dedicated years to honing my listening and coaching skills, to pursue this goal. Thus, being with writers who also share that desire makes me quite happy.
3. Writers observe. Even if only observing the thoughts in her own head or the sensations in her own body, a writer is more often than not observing some phenomenon so she can capture its essence and explain it with words. (Again, this quality is shared by scientists--some of whom are also excellent writers.) Because I am so attracted to both the internal/personal and the external/public, I am constantly observing as well, and nothing is more fun than engaging with others who share that heightened consciousness. Another aspect of observing is that over time, when combined with the acts of thinking and trying to understand people, someone who observes can make an educated determination that some previously held belief, assumption, or bias is actually false. And that’s when growth ensues. Nothing makes me happier than being with and talking to people who are open to or actively pursuing growth.
4. Writers love words. This one should be obvious, but it’s also a crucial point in my list. I love words. I love the nuance and precision afforded by just the right word. I was an editor and have written in some context for more than 25 years--how could I not love words, nuance, and precision? But words, nuance, and precision are not easy tools with which to create. Getting a story or a poem or an article to read exactly right is sometimes brutal work. Perhaps that is why published writers are so highly celebrated and acclaimed. Choosing the right words takes time, effort, care, and the ability to make oneself vulnerable while others (e.g., first readers or editors) make suggestions about one’s art. The fact that writers engage in that struggle makes us part of the same tribe.
5. Writers create. This might also seem obvious, but I am talking about much more than creating a document with words on a page or screen. Writers create moods. They create images. They create communities, families, and relationships. They create events, rooms, and cities. Writers create entire worlds into which readers step and in which we can hang out for a while. And that is nothing short of miraculous to me. I love writers because writers take simple symbols that represent specific sounds, put them together in a certain order, do this thousands of times, and an entire universe of beings, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors is created for readers to engage with forever (or as long as the document lasts). Writing is, in a sense, magic, and it’s the magic that entices me, again and again, to the world of writers.
(Side note: Of course there are closed-minded, egomaniacal, delusional, socially disturbed, morally horrible people who wear the “writer” label as well. They are not of interest to me here. This post is about the things I enjoy about the vast majority of writers.)
At the end, then, what did I get out of that writing workshop?
I guess I’m lucky in that I have spent much time in my life deeply involved with such distinct groups of people: scientists, healthcare professionals, yoga teachers, dancers, musicians, photographers, psychologists, fitness trainers, shiatsu therapists, scholars, just to name a few. I have a lot in common with all of them. Some I relate to emotionally, some jibe with my intellect, while others resonate with me on the spiritual plane, and I love and appreciate all of them for the richness and diversity they bring to my world, my life.
This year, though, I am especially intrigued by the world of writers, and I’m delving into how writing fits into my life, what it means to me, what it means to others (both those who call themselves writers or who aspire to do so), and how the process and result of writing can be enriched by the emotional, spiritual, and physical practices and lessons I have accumulated and relied on over the decades. My first personal forays into merging these phenomena have been rich and meaningful, and I am starting to invite other writing enthusiasts near me to join me for some “emotional, spiritual, physical” writing exercises. So far, it’s enormously fun, creative, and productive.
Thus, I already know it’s going to be an outstanding year. And for me, writers and writing will play a bigger role than ever.
Now, to make this post complete, I’m posting below a link to a discussion between one of my favorite authors (Jane Smiley) and one of my favorite inspirational people (Oprah) about the writer who made me first love literature, way back in my early teens, and who remains for me the best novelist of all time (Charles Dickens). It’s almost an hour long, so get yourself a hot drink and settle into a comfy spot to watch, listen, and enjoy this discussion that supports my pro-writer leanings.
The video won't embed because Oprah's site does not use SSL, which is weird. So click on the screen shot below to reach the external link. Enjoy!
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