How to Believe in What You Write

I used to think of “reality” as what I could see and taste and touch – the stuff that has already been made and that everyone agrees exists. The more serious I became about my writing, the more impractical this concept of reality became. For instance, let’s say I woke up one morning and thought to myself, “I want to write a sweeping historical novel.” Let’s say until that morning I’d never written anything but term papers, emails, and Facebook statuses. If I asked myself, “I wonder if I could do this?” and if I looked at “reality” to answer this question, I would have to answer, “No.” Clearly I couldn’t, because I hadn’t. Absurd, I know. If I looked to what I had done to tell me what I could do, I would never do anything, because I can’t do something until I’ve done it for the first time. But let’s say I didn’t just want to write this novel. I wanted, eventually, to make a living writing sweeping historical novels. Now, as a practical matter, I might look about at the world of writers and ask myself, “Has anyone made a living writing sweeping historical novels?”

Now what we commonly call reality can serve as an inspiration. It wouldn’t take long before I would see that, yes, people do make a living writing these books. Therefore, I might logically conclude, it is possible, and if it is possible, and if I am interested in it, then it is worthy of my full attention.

However, as inspiring as the examples of others can be, turning to the visible world requires great discipline. Because there other examples out there, examples of writers who failed to make a living, who failed even to publish a book. In fact, if I were diligent in my search for evidence, I would soon learn that there are more examples of people who did not make a living at it than of those who did.

What to do? It is as if there are two possible roads, and I won’t know which I am walking until I have reached the end. So it can seem, when I use the world I can see to tell me what I can do. But why would a writer do such a thing? I begin every story facing a blank page. The reality I can see is an empty canvas awaiting my decisions. The reality upon which my true attention is trained is the reality only I can see and know.

Which is why the true reality is not what I can see, not what has been made, but the alive potential within me from which all creation springs. It is a reality to which everyone has equal access, but which is equally unique in its expression through us. This reality is quite comforting when I can remember it. It is friendly and stable and supportive and consistent. When I’m in it, I cannot imagine wanting to leave.

But I do anyway. The world I can see and touch and taste is interesting too, and that’s where all the other people are, and it is easy to lose track of reality while we sit around debating the merits of what has been made, or fretting about what might be made. Meanwhile, there are pages and pages waiting to be filled, each of them equally blank, each of them equally open to whichever road I choose.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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