Just last week, these trees were on fire with golden leaves. Now, they are bare, naked and gray. They remind me that life is like this: one minute you are burning with life, and in the next moment, things have changed and so have you. We will all be lit up, shine for a brilliant but relatively brief moment, and eventually our light will go out. This is impermanence, this is the nature of our experience.
Someone recently asked me, after finding out I was a writing teacher, “oh, I have a friend who is a writing major, do you have any advice for her?” I mumbled some string of random things that essentially boiled down to “it’s a hard way to make a living.” I said something about developing other unique skills that would be related, like being able to code a webpage, that she should be willing to string together a lot of other little things to add up to a “living,” and that only people who really want it, are determined, will be able to stay with it long enough to make it, that you have to really want it. She surprised me with the question and I didn’t really know what to say, but it’s worth considering.
“What do you do?”
“I am a writer.”
“Really? What have you written?”
“Words on paper.”
~From an actual conversation I’ve had, more than once
And when I spent a bit of time considering it, my answer wasn’t much better: Read. Write, a lot. Develop a practice. If your first question is “how do I get published?,” you’re doing it wrong. Stop talking about it. Don’t join a writer’s group. Take classes, but know when to stop learning and just do. Don’t write for attention, money or fame, write because you can’t help yourself, you can’t stop yourself–don’t be a writer unless it’s your only option and you just know you’ll die if you don’t. Discover your own voice. “Pay attention, be astonished and tell about it,” (Mary Oliver). Some of the time, don’t write. Don’t forget to live, don’t forget to breathe. Pay attention to story. See meaning everywhere. Recognize patterns and believe in magic. Let go of judgement. Surrender. Try. Fail. Try again. Show up. Be boring in your life but wild on the page. Tell the truth. Get rid of energy vampires, shadow comforts and time monsters. Be your own kind of weird. Be kind.
Then it came to me, the only advice worth giving, the only way I know for sure how to be a writer, the only way to be alive, awake: live with your heart all the way open, and even when it’s hard, when it hurts, keep it open. In this way, you will know things, you will notice, and you will recognize what needs to be said about what you see, you will understand the secret message that only you can communicate, that just maybe you were born to share. As you “feel the rapture of being alive” (Joseph Campbell), you will know what to say, you will connect your innate wisdom and kindness to the right words and tell the story that the rest of us need to hear.