Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” But you don’t need to be “an author” to do this. I have long recommended writing to people in my therapy practice, like journaling, or writing a letter to someone who has caused pain, (which you may or may not send), or narrative therapy, a practice of writing to access deeper thoughts and feelings. Writing things down and then rereading and re-thinking helps anyone who does it (in whatever way) come to a better understanding of where they are, even who they are. It helps life make sense.
Writing is different than talking…even when it is stream of consciousness. Often we talk “off the top of our head” without filters, say things we perhaps only mean in the moment. Even when unfiltered the act of writing typically gets us more in touch with our inner self. We may start with ‘surface thoughts,’ write out a line or two or three, or a page out of anger or reactivity. But if we keep going, and page follows page, we begin to naturally organize what we are thinking into something more cohesive and more aligned with the values we cherish, the beliefs that form our foundational thought. When it is there in type on a document or as lines of ink on a page, it becomes a creation, external to us. That makes it more objective. We can look at it, read it, and assess its connection to who we were, who we are, or who we wish to be. And unlike the words we speak we can then realign them until they take us to where we want to be, without inflicting hurt while we are doing it.
I believe I am doing that in my writing. My last post, In the Ashes of My Brothers, on 9-11 and my experience there, was very different from all the rest of those on this blog, not focused on the process of writing or my experience of ‘becoming’ an author. It was a memoire of a profound time, but a filtered memory, viewed through ten years worth of reflection. Writing it down brought back a depth to my experience for me. I was there again, vividly, almost re-experiencing it. At the same time putting words to it helped further hone the perspective on the experience that time has provided. I hope reading it not only allowed a reader to walk with me in the ashes, but also opened for them a new perspective, a new way to make sense out of that experience.
I guess just as a short piece of any writing captures a moment or a perspective, a novel or long piece can capture more. The Call contains even more of my life experience, my sense of values and ethics. It captures metaphorical pieces of my cultural background. It helps me make sense of my life in a very big picture. This grand landscape contains the past of my heritage, some of my past, the present parts of my beliefs and interests woven with characters that include my grandchildren and other loved family members. Also very important to me is my intent that The Call be an outreach to the future. I write it so that it might be a vehicle to make sense of life for people who read it now, and for future generations I will never know.
Writing helps me make sense of life in the small parts of the every day and in the capital L of Life in the grand scheme. It helps me sort things out and keep things balanced. I hope you find that it provides those resources equally for you.
- What the last three years taught me about grief (aditirao.net)
- Unmetabolized (amandanorcross.wordpress.com)