Sometimes life gets in the way of writing. If you’ve attempted to write at any level at any time I’m sure you know that. We’d all love to write, but we’d also like to eat and sleep and have clean toilets and maybe an income (negotiable, of course). So writing gets inserted into the cracks of living, the napping hours, the wee hours of the morning, the thirty-eight minutes between appointments. But sometimes life expands a little further and seeps into those cracks and you’re left with an overflowing life to live and precisely zero time to write. And that is ok. Because let me tell you something, I would way rather my life get in the way of my writing than my writing get in the way of my living.
Because the fundamental prerequisite to being a writer is being a liver.
(Well, that sounded ten times better non-verbalized in my head than it looks on paper. Liver? Gross. But I you know what I mean.)
No one wants to read words written by someone who hasn’t been out of their writing closet in seventeen years. Sure, the output might be greater, but one can only conjure up so many ideas isolated in front of a screen. We’ve got to get out and experience some real life in order to offer anything of value.
We must live in order to write.
A painter who attempts a landscape of a beach without ever going to the beach himself can capture no more than a shadowy conjecture of the the foamy ocean and crashing waves. In order to offer an honest representation he must get out of the studio and go to the beach himself.
Our words should be honest representations of what it’s like to be alive in this world. And until we get our butts out of the chair and lace up our shoes and take a step out the door into the wide wide world, our words will remain shallow and dim sketches of what we imagine the world to be like.
Ideally this is done in a balanced flow of input and output. Like breathing in and breathing out, we live a little, write a little, live a little, write a little. But sometimes the living gets so big and all we can do is live, live, live. And hopefully in those seasons we collect a few thoughts along the way, hopefully we take some snapshots and jot a few sentences down, but nothing more. No viral blogpost, no shared status, no book proposals or deals. We’re just living.
I did a lot of living this summer. I strapped a pack on my back and hiked my way across Colorado, summiting mountains, breathing thin air, soaking my worn feet in frigid streams, and witnessing the great resilience of our own little bodies. I sat beside a backyard pool with cousins and grandparents and toasted marshmallows over a fire and shared stories of where we’ve been and plans of where we’re headed. I squeezed into a car with my four little siblings and drove a thousand miles for a family wedding – dancing, laughing, crying and consuming far too much sugar. I flew across the ocean and got out of the plane in Amsterdam, and then in Iceland, where I meandered through the streets and saw how other people live. I toted children across our little mountain town, running through splash parks and climbing across jungle gyms and always stopping for ice cream. I got up with the sun and slept under the stars and spent all the hours in between living, living, living.
It can be frustrating to not have output. It can feel like you’re stuck or lazy or unsuccessful. For all those who have an achievement complex (yours truly), it can feel like you are failing at being a functional member of society. But take heart, all you livers. (Again, let’s not get hung up on this word.) You are taking the first and primary step to being a writer.
You’re tasting sweetness on your tongue, you’re feeling the earth beneath your feet, you’re getting bronzed by the sun on your skin and tickled by the breeze through your hair. You are looking other humans in the pupils of their eyes and realizing they are living, too. You’re holding tiny babes in your arms and become mezmermized by the pattern of their breath. You are listening to the thoughts of your fellow people and starting to see things in a different light. You are coming to understand the depth of emotion a person can feel, you’re wrestling with the problems of humanity, you are learning there is much more going on all around you than you ever knew as you stand on a planet spinning circles around the sun. You are living.
Someday you’ll come back to your chair. You’ll close the door and shut all that life behind you. You’ll open the laptop and kick off the hiking boots. You’ll light a candle and pour some coffee and you will write. And the words that come will flow out of a heart that is truly alive. That has seen the world, that has experienced reality, that is aware of her surroundings. And this is the kind of writer we want to read.
So yeah, I’ve taken some journeys this summer. My output has been bleak. And I’m completely ok with that, because I’ve been living.