Giving Myself Permission to Write from the Heart

In her wonderful book about writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott recalls her father saying repeatedly, “Do it every day for a while … Do it as you would do scales on the piano. Do it by prearrangement with yourself. Do it as a debt of honor. And make a commitment to finishing things.”

I hated practicing piano scales when I was a child. But oh how I loved it when I was able to do them fast and accurately and they sounded so wonderful. Yes, this is definitely how I need to approach my writing. And unlike my piano lessons, I have a passion for writing (which makes it easier to buckle down and practice those writing scales) and maybe I even have some talent, both of which I’m afraid I lacked when it came to music. My mom really wanted me to love music the way she loved it. It really did bubble out of her. And it was also really important to her because it was “Christian.”

I understand her perspective, but I wonder: aren’t Christians “people of the Book”? And isn’t that book full of beautiful poetry and history and other creative writing — even beautiful writing in among the more theological parts? And don’t Christians worship a creative, relational, communicative God, and follow His Son, a master story-teller? So isn’t creative, joyful writing “Christian” too? Isn’t it communicative? And loving and sharing with others? “Made in the image of the Creator” even? (And couldn’t the same be said for other arts like drawing and dance, which seemed, in my childhood to be so frowned upon from the perspective of many Christians I knew)?

Of her own writing, Anne Lamott says, “I wrote a lot of other things, too. I took notes on the people around me, in my town, in my family, in my memory. I took notes on my own state of mind, my grandiosity, the low self-esteem. I wrote down funny stuff I overheard. I learned to be like a ship’s rat, veined ears trembling, and I learned to scribble it all down.”

I’ve been doing this for years. Nearly two hundred journals filled. Multiple blogs. Long handwritten letters and, more recently, long emails (and still some long handwritten letters). Responses to writing prompts. Newspaper columns. Writers’ group challenges. Even some published magazine articles and stories. Only, it seems I haven’t understood the true value of my scribblings. I’ve wanted people to approve of them, to approve of me. I’ve wanted to be “good” and “successful.” I haven’t understood at all what writing is really about…maybe what life and heart is really about.

And here’s another thing. I’ve been afraid to be funny. Or to laugh at things that tickle my funny bone. To talk and write with humour and fun. Afraid of letting go and sharing what’s really bubbling up from deep inside, because of fear instilled long ago that it’s just drivel, that it’s a waste of time and talent, that somehow it’s just wrong. Maybe even evil in some way.

That’s one of the things that attracted me to sitting around listening to First Nations people talk and laugh…the freedom of their stories and conversation… (my husband is native). Anyway, I’ve become so, so, so tired of being serious. It isn’t me. I wasn’t created to be serious. Why would the Creator make me in such a way that I want to laugh and dance and twirl around and skip and leap and fly — and then demand that to honour and obey Him I must be so serious?

I don’t believe that! I believe that “serious” writing and other forms of self-expression and stifled creativity much be someone else’s idea of religion — and maybe of controlling people — but I don’t believe that’s the Creator I’ve come to know — who made me in His image. Oh my, I could write a book — a novel even — about this. And yes, poetry, lots of poetry, too! And personal and narrative essays and short stories and whatever else bubbles up out of me. It’s time to finish and put out to the world all those bits and pieces I’ve started. Yes!