On Conflict and Writing (A Love Letter Reprise)

(While I’m away teaching in France for the month, I’m running a few favorite newsletters from last year.  We will be back to regular, new programming the first week in October. Meanwhile, if you want to come to France with me next year, click here for a look at this year’s program.)

 When first I started writing this letter, it was about a different topic (travel to be exact).  But as I tunneled further into it, I realized that what I really wanted to write about his week was conflict.

Ah, conflict.  It is the most important element of any piece of writing.  Conflict creates the underlying rhythm of all fiction, and non-fiction as well.  It is the thrumming baseline, the constant hum, the clothesline on which we hang all our writerly clothing.

Many of us are told, repeatedly, to add more conflict in our work. And yet we run from it, screaming, in life, right? Right? I know I do. I shrink from arguments, hate confrontation, abhor conflict in all its forms. I meditate and knit and weave and go to church to find inner peace, because I absolutely, positively, for real, hate conflict.

But there is one conflict that is basic to my life: every single moment of every single day the constant drumbeat in the back of my head is, I should be writing.  (Years ago I had a writing friend who set her screensaver to say, why aren’t you writing? I did that until I took to screaming what I thought were perfectly logical reasons I wasn’t writing at the computer.)  When I’m watching TV at night, I think that. When I’m performing the afore-mentioned relaxing crafts I’m thinking it. When I’m reading emails I’m thinking it.

I suspect that many of you feel the same way. Our time to write can be precious and fleeting in the press of other life demands and so we obsess about it when we can’t do it.  I suspect other creatives share this trait with us, that painters worry about painting, musicians about playing music, and son. In fact, I think it is this constant conflict, this constant pull, that separates creative people from non-creative types. Okay, truthfully, I think everyone is creative, some just don’t choose to express it.  But for the sake of brevity, we’ll just call them non-creative.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be one of them.  To not have this constant thing nipping at my heels, calling me to attention.   Peaceful and easy, I imagine. I wouldn’t have to work so hard at all that inner peace, right? And yet I’d be bored as all snot, too.  I can’t imagine what life would be like without the call to creativity and I really don’t want to find out.

I had this crazy idea as I’ve been writing this letter.  And it’s this: that writing pulls us out of our everyday lives, that it’s the impetus to pull us onto a creative path, the hero’s journey if you will.  I just pulled out one of my favorite writing books, The Writer’s Journey (1st ed.) by Christopher Vogler, vaguely recalling that he said something about this very topic. And indeed he does: “The Hero’s Journey and the Writer’s Journey are one and the same. Anyone setting out to write a story soon encounters all the tests, trials, ordeals, joys, and rewards of the Hero’s Journey…. Writing is an often perilous journey inward to probe the depths of one’s soul and bring back the Elixir of experience—a good story.”

So take heart, because all that conflict you’re experiencing about your writing makes you heroic, my friend.  And remember, all you really need to do is put the conflict on the page—instead of getting embroiled in it in life.

Leave a comment and tell me how you deal with the constant conflict of writing vs. not writing.  I’m in France, but I’ll do my best to respond!

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