“Tell me this--if you knew you would be poor as a church mouse all your life--if you knew you'd never have a line published--would you still go on writing--would you?'
'Of course I would,' said Emily disdainfully. 'Why, I have to write--I can't help it at times--I've just got to.”
Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery
It’s 11:02 p.m. I have a stack of books next to me—Bible studies, book club books, a reading journal for a course I’m taking. I have a list of projects I’d like to work on—Instagram micro essays, short story contests, an advent devotional, a memoir. I have one third of a novel in my iCloud. I have 79 fragmented notes typed into my phone, idea bursts I hope I can decipher someday when I have more than a minute or two
I’m not feeling especially coherent.
The last few weeks have been punishing. I signed my children up for too many extracurriculars—something I specifically remember vowing not to do before I was a parent—so our evenings are mad dash of homework, piano practice, shoveling down dinners, and changing from swimsuits to baseball uniforms. My husband is swimming deeper and deeper into the waters of his prosthodontics residency. My children heap stones of worry on my back. Is my first grader making friends? Does my preschooler poop his pants because he senses tension in our home? Should my toddler be talking more?
I don’t have time to write. I should hang out with my husband, or read, or exercise, or clean. I should definitely sleep.
Except, I can’t. The words claw at me under my skin, begging for expression. They may land dull and trite on the page, but they’re alive in my brain, my heart, my veins, and I have to release them to find a moment of peace.
I’m an Enneagram 4. If you’re an Enneagram junkie, you now know many things about me. If you’re wondering what bizarro language I’m speaking, here’s the short story: I’m ruled by emotions. I’m compelled to express them.
When I was a child, my nana gave me a green holographic spiral notebook and told me it was for my stories. I wrote Barbie soap operas, mildly plagiarized versions of my favorite books’ plots, declarations of love in blank verse. I filled notebook after notebook with my messy handwriting, feeling a freedom I didn’t feel anywhere else—to say exactly what I thought, with no fear of mockery.
I’m a little braver, now. I have a few rejections under my belt, and I’ve (sort of) learned to let them slide off my back rather than burrow into my self-confidence. (That’s kind of a self-deception). I don’t hoard my words—I throw them out into the inter webs and see where they land. But the impulse is the same—I have to unburden the words and emotions swimming in my blood, or they’ll burst out in a rant or seep into my words like acid, poisoning my relationships. I hope for validation and praise—sometimes more than I want to admit, but even when it doesn’t come, I write anyway.
I write to assign meaning when everything feels senseless and murky. Madeleine L’Engle wrote in Walking on Water,
To serve any discipline of art, be it to chip a David out of an unwieldy piece of marble, to take oils and put a clown on canvas, to write a drama about a young man who kills his father and marries his mother and suffers for these actions, to hear a melody and set the notes down for a string quartet, is to affirm meaning, despite all the ambiguities and tragedies and misunderstanding which surround us.
Like my fictional bosom friend, Emily Byrd Starr, I have to write. It isn’t always convenient. It isn’t always pretty. But my thoughts fester like an infection underneath the surface if I don’t set them free.
So I write. Because even if nobody ever read another word, even if nobody ever validated my efforts, even if I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that everything that came from my keyboard would be garbage, I couldn’t stop using words to process the emotions within and the chaos without. Words are my alethiometer, my scrying glass, my liahona, and I’ll never stop reaching for them.
This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series "Write Anyway."