I think it was Flannery O’Connor who said: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I feel a lot the same way.
I’ve journaled ever since I can remember, and whenever the world gets confusing or I don’t know how I’m feeling, that’s what I do.
Early on, these were little more than letters to God as I understood them. As I understood *him*. Somehow, by the end of the time that I was writing, the answers to the questions that were in my heart appeared as feelings and thoughts that made sense. Somehow, I wasn’t able to access this level of understanding while the words were locked swirling in my head, and somehow, the act of writing them down slowed my brain enough that I could order my own thoughts, and reading them back to myself allowed for new understanding to dawn. It calmed and settled me.
I still use this technique.
Thankfully, it works even if I’m not writing about myself, which is how stories came about for me. Things that were too difficult for me to process in my little girl brain, and later even in my big girl brain came out in the thoughts and actions and stories of other people. Turns out they don’t even have to be the same struggles with the same exact situation.
Just connecting with another person’s story – another character’s story, is enough to help calm the voices that compete for space in my heart and mind.
It’s funny how this process works in my head even with fiction. I rarely know what’s going to happen to the characters ahead of time. I can’t see any farther than the current scene, the current words coming out of their mouths. And yet, as I start to write, the story unfolds and begins to make sense. More surprising still, it isn’t until the words are out that I can see where the story is going – where the story needs to go next. Most of the time I begin to see the next thing as the part that I’m writing is happening. It’s literally as if I am watching a movie inside my head, so I run around in there trying to write down everything I see and hear as I see it and hear it.
As if I am merely the scribe. The lowliest of players on the stage.
And that’s fine by me. I have no big aspirations to become a famous person, but I believe that these stories mean something, and that they should be read. I can say that because most of the time when I’m writing fiction, I don’t honestly believe that those stories have come from me. I believe that these stories–these characters–exist somehow in the world, or at the very least in each of our imaginations. They are representations of people and situations that we have all encountered on some level.
Sometimes I don’t even remember what I’ve written. It’s as if I go into some kind of another zone or flow, and I come out the other side with a scene that I didn’t plan for, that tells some deep truth about humanity that I couldn’t access directly if I tried. And I do try, believe me–it just never works right when I try to rush or force the process.
And so I wait. Until inspiration strikes. Until I feel like if I don’t write I will be somehow missing the important parts.
New research on adult coloring books and the way it helps people who have undergone severe trauma or on victims of PTSD has made so much sense as I unpack this need I seem to have for creativity and writing. Studies have shown that the left and right sides of the brain, which function very differently from one another, can be balanced with creative activity. The left side of your brain is responsible for linear thought, problem-solving and logic, and right side of the brain, for abstract thinking and creativity.
When your brain is overwhelmed with trying to problem solve, an activity like coloring forces your brain to slow those problem-solving neurons and focus more energy on abstract thought, which then balances the two sides of your brain, helping you to feel calmer and more settled.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be coloring, it can be any creative activity that works for you.
For some people it is simply working with their hands in a wood shop or a garden. It can be painting or cooking or knitting or any other number of creative pursuits.
I realize that it seems like an oxymoron to say that hearing “voices” in my head and describing stories of imaginary people and worlds is actually the thing that keeps me sane and settled, but it has always been this way for me.
I do other things as well–in fact, I do almost all of the things I listed above, including some we haven’t talked about like riding my motorcycle as an act of creativity–as an act of freedom-making. I also paint. I cook, I knit and crochet, I sew, I garden, and I work on my motorcycle. For me, creative outlets can be any or all of these things, but writing is the most important act of sanity-keeping that I can do in my life.
I do not want the credit for the stories to be mine alone. They were created in harmony with my world, my family, my experiences, and my place in this life, which I am not wholly responsible for.
I didn’t choose to be present at this moment in history. All of us can only do the best that we can with that which we have been given.
Sometimes, I have been given words.
I don’t have to understand them fully right now. I can wait until they are written to read them back and gain a fuller understanding of their meaning along with the rest of the readers. My job is not to judge the words, but simply to share them. I merely have to remain a faithful scribe to the stories of the people of this world and the worlds beyond our understanding.