Right for Change: The Tranformative Act of Writing

by Jill Wilbur Smith

Emily’s post about “failing faster” made me contemplate my own writing process. Or more accurately these days, my lack-of-writing process. I agree wholeheartedly that fear of failure is one of the things that keeps me from writing. But I also have a slightly different take on it.

For me, every act of writing is transformative. I’m a different person after a writing session than I was before I started. That’s especially true about writing creative nonfiction, memoir or this personal blog. But I also find it true when writing fiction.

IMG_2713The act of finding the right words to describe an emotion, recall in precise detail an event from my past, or create a character who comes alive on the page is exhausting. And some days it’s too much for me. In fact, many days it’s more than I can face.  [Just now, I stopped for a full 4 minutes to reflect on this, to prepare myself for change.]

Change is good. I understand that. I get it. It’s important. But it’s not necessarily something I want to do every day.

Imagine if you had to change your breakfast every day. Not necessarily in a big way, just a small change. But different every day. If you have cream cheese on your bagel on Monday, you have to choose a different topping on Tuesday. You might get cranky. You might not want to change. There will come a day when you crave the comfort of the cream cheese. But you can’t go back. And if you do, it won’t ever be quite the same again.

That’s how writing is for me. When I share a story about coming through a difficult time with Emily as a toddler, I forever cement in place that moment in time. If I’ve remembered something with less than perfect accuracy, I’ve in some way changed the event itself. And I’ve rearranged something in the very fiber of my being that makes me someone different than I was before.

I think that’s why I tend to write in bursts. I’ve tried to have the discipline to write every day as my enthusiastic daughter suggests. In fact, I finished a novel mostly by writing in 20-minute sessions every morning. But for the most part I write in bursts of hours or days on an essay or a piece of fiction.

I write when I’m ready for change. When I know I can handle a new me.

I also write when I need to change. I write when a painful event crushes me, threatens to annihilate me if I don’t push back, lift the beast off my back, wrestle it to the page and put together the words that give it shape and meaning and allow me to move on.

I write when I’m ready to be transformed from the fearful one to the one who knows she can handle anything.