Are you a writer?

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by Whitney McKendree Moore

I was inspired last night by something I encountered in a tiny book of letters from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke to an aspiring young writer. In it, he essentially tells the student that if you are a writer, you write. Why? Because you must. You can’t help it. In his words:

Find out… for yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: Must I write? And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity. If, as I have said, one feels one could live without writing, then one shouldn’t write at all.” 

 Since childhood, I pictured myself as a writer (there was a TV ad for coffee in the 1950s with which I identified completely: a woman in a cabin with a typewriter, a roaring fire, and a dog at her side. I was somewhat reticent to embrace the fact and call myself a writer because I didn’t want to sound conceited and besides, I wasn’t sure I had anything much to say. Now I feel like someone turned the bathtub spigot on full blast. Writing is my way of finding out what I actually think, and I’ve discovered I have plenty to think about and to say.

My Particular Passion

Voice and pen have been my passion ever since I can remember. As a toddler, I recall my parents being highly amused when my attempt to pronounce the babysitter’s name came out as “Mrs. Marmalade.” I also remember their laughter when my father returned from rounds at The Psychiatric Institute — “’the So-Quacky-Quacky” in my toddler vernacular. Admiration and applause affirmed my tiny attempts at big vocabulary, and when I learned to put voice to pen, I discovered a very good way to be heard.

After I married in 1971, I published an article every year as I pursued my professional career as a teacher, then a college admissions officer, then a director of research, then as a publications person — until finally, I was a Senior Staff Writer free-lancing as The Write Resource for private clients on the side. A turning point came for me in 1989, when I discovered Twelve-Step recovery. There, people were sharing “dirty laundry” and seeking God’s guidance to overcome. Now I focus my writing differently than I did before. Now my primary purpose is to share my evidence that God is still in the miracle making business. I am writing for Christian women in Twelve-Step recovery, people who embrace rigorous honesty and know the Higher Power up-close-and-personal. They are my tribe.

Making the Time

I have recently recognized that I need lots of time around me; otherwise, I feel pressured and too rushed. Therefore, I leave my mornings wide open as much as possible — protecting at least three or four hours that are totally unscheduled. For me, it has never worked well to get ahead of an idea; I need to wait for it. And I need to allow time for “riffs” that happen often when I’m reading, of which I do a great deal in the afternoons. I am always looking for beautiful bits of writing — things like this from Ever After by Graham Swift:

“And then one day she was gone; where she had been, there was air.”

Reading on Kindle has made it much easier to collect quotes and share them (without editorial comment) in a Goodreads group called Snippets That Inspire. For me, reading provides fuel for my creativity. I hereby give myself permission to arrange my calendar accordingly.

I am encouraged by Rilke’s encouragement! Apparently, I’m not crazy — being this focused tends to make me somewhat like an absent-minded professor, losing track of time (which flies when I’m writing) and even meals (except as they magically appear). I think if it weren’t for my husband, I’d probably forget to eat because, to me, food is fuel — period.

There is no threat of writer’s block for we who write. It’s too much FUN, this chasing of butterflies, this catching them ever so spritely — not to snuff them and pin them dead in a box, but to capture them to share and then release. Rilke’s words encourage me that we writers WRITE — we can’t help it — that’s what we do. What about you? What’s your writing passion?