Can Writing Set You Free?
Today is Independence Day, also known as the Fourth of July, a day in which we Americans celebrate the anniversary of our freedom from those pesky English overlords. There's currently a lot of media attention to the themes of freedom and independence, and thus I've been thinking of how these concepts apply to writing.
Many years ago, I had the pleasure to hear Isabel Allende speak. She was well-known then; I'd wager a guess she's even better known now. I love her books, and I love her own personal story as well. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, here you go: A native Chilean, she fled her home country in 1975, after her cousin Salvadore Allende's presidency was overthrown in a bloody coup. When she learned her beloved grandfather, who still lived in Chile, was dying, she began writing a letter to him, and this letter eventually became her first and arguably, best-known, book, The House of the Spirits. She's now a U.S. citizen.)
This is a woman who knows a lot about freedom. And the main thing I remember from her speech that night, besides the fact that I was wicked inspired,was that she talked about how we writers who live in free countries are lucky, precisely because we are free. And furthermore, we rarely stop to consider how writers in repressive countries and cultures don't have the freedom to put whatever words they want on the page.
Some of us might squander that freedom by oh, say, indulging in writer's block. Or, making chores like the laundry and dishes more important than our writing. (That, as my family can tell you, is not one of my issues.) Maybe I you spend too much time on the internet or reading email? Next time those temptations lure you, remember all those writers in faraway places who would love to have your freedom to put words on the page.
And, if you would like to ponder further, think about this:
–Writing can set you free from negativity. It can release you from anxiety and fear and doubt through the simple act of getting all these toxic emotions on the page. Out of your body they go, out into the world in a safe vessel.
–The writing life itself can set you free. Whether you're a bestselling novelist, a free-lance writer, or a jack-of-all-writing-trades, the writing life affords you freedom to choose your time, your jobs, your travels, everything.
–Writing can set you free from your story. I know, ironic huh? Here we are devoted to story, and here I am, advocating you free yourself from yours. We tend to get really wrapped up in our stories, which many spiritually-minded people would say is just an illusion anyway. As an example, here's one I've been struggling with lately: I should never, ever abandon a writing project, even when it is clearly not working. What's yours? Write it out. As Julia Cameron says, "Put the drama on the page." (She learned this when her then-husband Martin Scorcese was gallivanting around Europe with his new lover, while "friends" helpfully send clips of articles back to her in L.A., where she was caring for their newborn baby daughter. And continuing to write.)
–Writing can free you to fall in love. Yes, it can. Because when you are writing regularly, you're in love with the world, and nothing feels better.
–Writing can free you to be who you are meant to be. Truly, there's no faster path to self-knowledge (and yes it is important) than writing–whether you are laying down words in your journal or writing that novel of yours.
So those are the ways that writing sets you free that occur to me. What about you? How does writing set you free? Please leave a comment.
Photo by StheR.