Musings: Writing As Sustenance

It’s a special time of day: I’m sitting in the breakfast “nook” in my kitchen in early morning, sipping chai tea, listening to Yaz (and wondering if the song “Only You” reminds me more of The [British] Office or Fringe) and letting the creative juices flow. I luxuriate in the quiet and solitude, knowing that – right now – the Oxford comma rules supreme here. After years of trying different professional roles, I’ve finally come to the point where I realize that I am, first and foremost, a writer…and everything else will be inextricably interwoven with that identity.

The arguably cheesy career advice about doing what you do best actually has a grain of truth to it; I’ve always excelled in writing and English-related academic work, and it’s always felt nearly effortless. Yet, strangely, it’s taken me a long time to conclude that I’m supposed to be writing, and that I should try to make a living doing it.

I think many of us may buy into the idea that even if you do work that doesn’t feed your soul, you can still find ways to fulfill your desire to do what you need to do by finding creative ways to use your skill/talent; for example, by looking for ways to do the work informally. I’ve done that, often by volunteering where I’ve seen a need…like editing and revising the written work of others to make it more grammatically correct, appealing, and concise. While I didn’t hold an “editor” title, I did just that – edited others’ work (including marketing collateral copy in a highly regulated environment, sometimes quite an interesting challenge) – without formal recognition. I suspect I may have tread on some copywriters’ toes in doing so, perceived to be playing in their “sandbox”. I also frequently offered to edit colleagues’ business communications, including those of (other) senior leaders.

Lest it should seem like bragging, I want to clarify my motivation: for others, writing seemed like a task they didn’t enjoy, one that they just wanted to be done with; for me, both the process and the results are enjoyable, and I wanted communications (emails, correspondence, presentations, collateral) representing my organization to look as professional and be as clear as possible…to be excellent in quality.

It doesn’t seem to me like striving for excellence should be viewed negatively…and yet it was. As a leader, I was told that a direct report’s work should just be accepted as it was – not to my standards – because it was “good enough”. Good enough?? I’d offered suggestions regarding revising the content, including explanations for the edits…but they weren’t dictates. My expectations were clear: work representing my department should be of the highest quality, with accurate content and correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, and where possible, creativity; yet, perversely, my boss seemed to think that my standards were too high. So much for excellence.

And I make no apologies for having an expansive vocabulary and being a good speller – I read, a lot, and was a serious bookworm while growing up, and I’ve studied other languages…all of which help with vocabulary and spelling (other languages provide etymology clues). Plus, I’m just enchanted by language and writing. No coercion needed. If I use a polysyllabic word you don’t know, look it up and learn it. Learning should never end.

I think it’s my reverence for language that fuels the need to write. Recently, I wore a humorous t-shirt (about the importance of commas) to a business and was asked about it – what came out of my mouth was “I’m an English fan.” I’ve thought about that response at length since then, and realize that it’s true: I ❤️ English, and language in general. I wish I had a compelling reason to write an essay, a book report, a poem, or a song, every day…but sometimes, it’s a challenge finding the time to do it. As I sit and create, I feel my mind working like a well-oiled machine (purring like a high-performance engine?). I sometimes need to dig for just the right word, but it’s always there, along with its bethren. Petrichor? Senescence? Logophilia? Sure, and many more.

Not long ago, someone I had just met asked what I do for a living. I said that I’m a writer (“farmer-poet” might technically be more accurate, though neither really pays the bills). No, I haven’t written a book yet (though I’ve been encouraged to), and I lack the ideal writer’s “pedigree” (I doubt I’m alone in thinking we place far too much stock in those). I’m reframing how I look at my natural abilities and acquired skills – while I was very good at what I used to do for work, it didn’t imbue me with the delight that writing consistently does. For me, writing isn’t just intellectually stimulating or therapeutic – it’s necessary. I am a writer. Existentially: scribo, ergo sum?

In my continuing quest to see and create beauty, I aspire to write something that is enjoyed not just by me, but also by other readers. I’m beginning to appreciate the value of writing down story ideas as they come, even writing a bit of the story while it’s still fresh in my mind as a prompt for what I hope will follow. I’m particularly excited about an idea that came to me in the wee hours, while I should have been asleep in bed but was, instead, scowling at the light from the very bright moon coming in around the curtains and letting an idea play out in my mind. It wasn’t a complete waste of time (insomnia), after all. And, make no mistake: I will write.