Thursday 8 November 2012

Letter to a Young Writer in Nigeria

Dear Young Writer

I’ve been thinking about your email since I received it yesterday. I wonder what I must say to you? Perhaps it’s best if I just ramble around. Then, you can take out of what I say that which resonates with you, and you can ignore the rest! So here goes:

If you’re feeling you’re stuck in your writing career, the answer may lie in something as simple as taking a break to recharge your batteries. Sometimes a day is enough, other times you need longer.  

But, if you're depressed because you doubt your writing abilities, or you're losing hope and faith in writing ever being what you want it to be, perhaps you need to look deeper.

Depression is, I think, a price of being creative.  Think of Hemingway, Sylvia Plath and others – just look how many creative people (and writers) are on this list!

 No 14 is worth highlighting:

Joseph Conrad: Throughout his life, the famed author of Heart of Darkness struggled with depression grave enough to cause physical illness. Much of it came from pressing doubts regarding his writing prowess.

Sometimes when depression hits me — and it does, often, although I dislike talking about it as focusing on it just makes it worse — I withdraw from the world and from writing. The world today can sometimes be too much. Too much noise. Too much rushing. Too much anger and pain and fighting. Just too much of everything … so, I withdraw and try to re-centre myself. I console myself with the thought that if writers like Joseph Conrad doubted their writing prowess, well then, for the rest of us mere mortals, doubt will be our constant companion.

Here’s a good article on writers and depression I found  - it may help you too. The comments are worth reading as well.

So … why do you write? What makes you, Young Writer, pick up the pen and start another story when you’ve had another rejection or another writing disappointment?

I have two quotes that encapsulate why I write. Here they are:

Artistic talent is a gift from God, and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waste this talent, but must develop it. Be faithful to beauty and be faithful to goodness.  (Pope John Paul II, in 2004 to the performers of a Break Dancing exhibition)

and, my absolute favourite, the one quote that always pushes me to write on through every bad writing experience:

“Come,” says the Lord. ‘I will make a covenant between me and you. I, I will not measure you out any more distress than you need to write your books...but you are to write the books. For it is I who want them written. Not the public, not by any means the critics, but Me. Me!”

“Can I be certain of that?” asks the young writer Charlie.

“Not always,” says the Lord.     (From “The Young Writer with a Carnation” by Isak Dinesen)

I ask you again WHY do you write? 

I’ve learnt to accept that to be truly creative — to write from the heart and soul, rather than from the intellect and ego — there’s a price I have to pay.

That price is depression, which springs from the doubt and uncertainty that surrounds my writing progress. I struggle and struggle with my writing and my doubts about my calling as a writer overwhelm me. Why, I ask?  I don’t know.  Why, every time I get a break – and those breaks are few and far between! – does something happen that takes me away from my writing? How am I ever going to be heard or read or noticed in the multitude of voices that are now writing their own stories?  Why JK Rowling and not Judy Croome or a Young Writer from Nigeria?  Why do I write when, for every step I take forward, I’m pushed 100 steps back? Why am I always blocked in my progression as a writer? Why? Why? WHY?

Why do I even bother to write?

Although my faith is not conventional, I am a person of faith. Part of the blueprint of my personal faith is that I believe we've all been given at least one "soul gift" that is unique to us. We also, I believe, have certain "karmic lessons" to learn. 

Spending our time on this earth developing that "soul gift", or talent (remember the parable of the talents that Christ told?) and working to overcome our "karmic lessons" will be accomplished within the reality of our physical life, because it's through that earthly reality that our souls evolve and grow ever closer to the Divine.

The highly evolved soul called Christ was a Master Teacher when he lived here on earth. He was so close to God, to the Divine Spirit that rests beyond time and space as we know it, that— like Moses, Abraham, Mohammed (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), Buddha and all the great Spiritual Masters — he (and the other prophets) changed the world forever.

But even Christ had his doubts about his destiny. Doubt, after all, is the foundation of faith:

Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother   (Kahlil Gibrain)

Abraham's faith was tested with the sacrifice of Isaac; Buddha's was tested as he sat under the Bodhi tree and, on Gethsemane, Christ, too, had to face his doubts. He had to walk into the arms of the Roman soldiers with nothing but his faith to guide and reassure him that he was walking the right path.

Have you ever watched Jesus Christ Superstar, the rock musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice? It is a BRILLIANT rock opera, and there is one song, GETHSEMANE, which, every time I hear it, makes me think of my writing and my doubts about my writing.

Here is one of the best renditions of it ever and as you listen to the words, think about the struggle Christ had on Gethsemane, the struggle to overcome his doubt and move towards his destiny… 


That’s a big word.

I believe my personal destiny is to be A Writer. That's it:  A Writer. Not A Rich Writer. Not A Famous Writer. Just ... A Writer.

And so I'm very serious about writing the truth that lies in my heart and soul. My writing was vilified; I've had verbal stones cast at me. At times, my sensitive writer's soul felt crucified.

Christ discovered on Gethsemane that he had two choices: to die, or not to die.  I had to learn to approach my writing almost as Christ approached Gethsemane:  with the knowledge that the only thing I can control is my choice to write or not to write.

What happens after that lies in my destiny.

I have no way of knowing what that is.  I could become the next writing sensation. I could die in obscurity and, in two hundred years, someone will discover that, like van Gogh and William Blake, my artistic voice was ahead of its time. Or — and reality tells me this is the most likely option — I'll just die, my voice unheard, my books unread, except by a few like-minded souls.

If I accept that the ultimate result of all the effort I put into my writing is out of my hands, can I now sit down and write easily, fired up by faith?

Oh no.  My ego, or dark side, is still there, as large as ever, feeding my doubts, stroking my despair at the never-ending uphill battle that is WRITING and telling me to stop dreaming, to stop hoping … to just stop writing!

But still I write.

Will you choose to write?