Writers live and work at the intersection of life and ideas. Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, poetry or op eds, our life experiences and the words we share are connected. Sometimes, the connection is obvious. Sometimes, it’s more subtle. But, it’s always there – a thread or a “through line” that stitches life and work together into a whole.
I was reminded of this truth the other day when I came across Elle Luna’s 2014 Medium post, The Crossroads of Should and Must. In this piece (which eventually became a book), Luna uses Picasso as an example of someone who embodies this blended approach to being:
“Picasso’s life blended seamlessly with his work. It was all one huge swirling mix of bullfights and beaches and booze. And we could tell. Because to look at one of Picasso’s canvases is quite literally to look into his soul. And this is exactly what happens when our life, our essence, is one and the same with our work. It’s when job descriptions and titles no longer make sense because we don’t go to work— we are the work.”
She even offers a visual to illustrate the idea:
This concept of the artist (or writer) being the work has been on my mind more and more since I stumbled across Luna’s post, and it’s helping me to understand the transition I’m going through in my own work.
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I haven’t exactly made a secret of the fact that I was deeply affected by the outcome of last year’s U.S. election. I might even go so far as to say that I have been transformed in some ways, both as a person and as a writer.
This transformation is taxing, and is at least partly to blame for my being absent from these weekend posts for the past three weeks. I have had an unexpectedly heavy work load for January; but more than that, I have been at a loss for words. I have been unsure of what I want to or should say. I have been questioning my purpose and my role here on the blog and as a writer in general. I have been reassessing my priorities.
Before I came to my desk to write this post, I took a moment to look back at some of the pieces I’ve published since the election. I wanted to see if they held any clues about my trajectory. In running through the post titles, I saw that I have been careening all over the place in terms of “who I am” as a writer.
My first batch of posts following November 9th included a craft piece on how to write effectively about issues, a quick rant about why art matters, a more direct post about discovering my civic voice, and a hopeful ramble about finding the silver lining when you’re lost in the dark. In all these pieces, I was reacting (without much editing) to what I was experiencing in my life as I witnessed the world changing. I was trying to make sense of what was happening.
And then, I turned inward. I tried to bring myself back to a place where I could write pieces that were a little more uplifting and in the style of what I have written here in the past. I wrote a short piece offering reassurance that we’re all still ourselves. I wrote about illuminating the beautiful, and I wrote about grounding and connecting.
After that, I hit a bit of a wall. I didn’t have the energy to write anything of substance. I felt so overwhelmed and so confused by the avalanche of information that I was trying to take in. (There is so much to learn!) Though I was feeling so much and had so many thoughts and questions, I was not in a place where I could articulate them even to myself, never mind manage to put them down in words. So, for two weeks I posted pieces that made almost no mention of all the Big Ideas swirling around in my head. Instead of tackling the hard stuff, I wrote about getting back in gear after the holidays and put together a summary of your favorite top five weekend edition posts from 2016. I treated my writing here as an assignment to publish “something to do with writing” rather than a place to share my innermost thoughts with fellow writers.
Finally, I went silent for three weeks. I just didn’t know what to say.
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I almost talked myself out of writing today. I almost let myself off the hook. But in the end I realized that – even if I didn’t feel ready … maybe especially if I didn’t feel ready – I needed to get myself back into the habit of doing it anyway.
I share these personal details not because I think anyone should care about the minutiae of my writing struggles (they shouldn’t), but in case I’m not the only one going through these stages of “evolution.” Crises (whether in Real Life or fiction) are necessary. They are the catalyst that moves a story forward, the thing that enables growth and change. Crises bring clarity by stripping away the superficial and leaving us with only the most critical elements of who we are. They help us define ourselves by revealing where our loyalties lie. They help us identify our true purpose by clearly demonstrating which beliefs matter to us most.
In the best scenarios, crises help us to grow by taking our attention off ourselves and expanding our perspective to include others. Caring about and understanding the world beyond our own doorstep is important for any human being, but it’s absolutely essential for a writer. It’s our job as storytellers to do the hard work of stepping outside our own skins so that we can, through our writing, help others experience that same journey, see a story (and the world) from different perspectives, and learn to discover their own truth.
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My identity as a writer is not yet fully baked. I’m still finding my way to more solid ground. But, I’m choosing to (as much as possible) find a way to create the blending of life and art that Luna talked about in her essay and her book. Even while I’m on the journey to that place where I am “being” more than “doing” the work, I need to own my life experience and how that experience influences my writing. My life experience should be an asset to my work, not a hinderance. I don’t want to have to hide or downplay my beliefs or my personal feelings. I want to have the freedom to be myself. All the time – in my life and in my work.
This is who I am.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.