Why Writing Is Really Listening
And Why I Don’t Write My Best Writing.
Part of being a writer (or more accurately, calling myself one) is a continual struggle over the ultimate meaning and worth of my own writing. Deadlines, lack of discipline, and insecurity can bring a lot of heaviness to the writing process.
Once writing becomes bogged down in these qualities, it becomes harder and harder to remember why you started and where the meaning is really coming from.
My own process of writing is punctuated (heh) by moments of remembering — moments where I rediscover why I started writing in the first place. The moments when I let everything else fall away and I am thrilled and whisked along on a journey of imagination, words, and fun.
There’s this vague satisfaction that comes from writing. It scratches an itch that nothing else can. Even if what I wrote is complete shit, I can at least point and say “THERE! That is something that I created. It did not exist before, and if I delete it it will never exist again.”
This taps into one of my favorite writing quotes:
“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” -Franz Kafka
Writing is a method of unleashing something deeply unique. Something that is uniquely you. This leads me one of my favorite questions about writing — where is it all coming from?
The ironic component for me is that, despite all my worrying, my best writing doesn’t come from me. It comes through me. All I need to do is show up, swing my axe, and dip into that frozen sea.
The best words, ideas, sentences — they all just appear. They don’t come from talking, trying, or straining. My best writing comes when I’m listening.
The nature of this process gets at the primal joy of creativity. It’s the experience of being in touch with something utterly mysterious, and being informed and guided by it. Where does my writing really come from? As Rumi said, “Who speaks words with my mouth?”
Art comes when we pause. When we listen. When we press an ear to that thriving, primal mystery inside of us. And we allow room to be surprised, to be vulnerable, to wonder.
Rumi said it best. Here’s an excerpt from the previously mentioned poem, “Who Says Words With My Mouth”:
Who Says Words With My Mouth?
All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.
This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?
Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.
For me, writing (and art in general) taps into something that is completely unexplainable. All I do know is that it is joyful. It is mysterious. And it is humbling.
When I write, I stand in awe and humility before this great mystery of being. By opening up my own “frozen sea,” I feel comforted and complete. I feel connected to the mystery of life. I don’t know where the mystery ends and I begin, but I feel like I’ve come home.
As Rumi said:
“Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.”
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