Friday, October 3, 2008

Writing is a Gift

When I visit schools and talk to students about writing I am frequently asked why I am a writer. Actually, the answer is really quite simple. I tell students that I write because I can’t not write. Believe me, I’ve tried, but I’ve never been able to go without it for very long. Lucky for me.

I’ve always written and I’ve always enjoyed it. From little made up books and plays as a child, to atrocious teen-aged, angst ridden poetry, to college essays and then children’s writing as an adult. I’ve always loved to write. Journal writing has been a part of my life, and unfortunately my personal baggage every time I move, since I was a teenager. I’ve always loved the thrill of following up on an idea, the joy of creativity and the hidden wonder of revision. But it is just recently that I have begun to see the power and purpose of writing in my life.

First of all, writing allows me the gift of time spent exactly the way that I want to spend it. Every morning I get up early and while the rest of the house is still asleep, I pour myself a cup of steaming, hot tea, wrap myself in a cozy quilt, and get out my journal. Most days I don’t know what I’m going to write, all I do know is that when I open the journal my heart and my mind opens also. Words flow, thoughts come easily, my imagination soars, and when my morning writing time is over I feel fortified to face my day. And why not when the first hour has been filled with all the things I most want to do anyway; read, think, daydream, imagine and of course, drink tea.

Writing has given me the gift of truly seeing. Georgia O’Keeffe said, “Nobody sees a flower—really—it is so small it takes time…to see takes time….” Writing gives me the time, and the purpose, to make myself slow down and really see, and through that closer look, my world grows and is enriched. Let me give you an example. I recently completed a picture book about Claude Monet, the Impressionist painter famous for capturing light in his paintings. As I read about him I found myself looking at my world through a different lens. Scenes that I’d seen a million times before I now saw through Monet’s eyes. I didn’t just briefly notice the pretty silver edging on a cloud, or the shimmering sunlight as it landed on a leaf. I looked more closely. “What color is the light?” I asked myself. “White? Silver? How would I paint it?” Thanks to my writing about Monet I notice more. And this is true for each person I’ve researched and written about. By putting myself in their skin, I also see the world out of their eyes. So my gift of writing has also become a gift of awareness.

Writing has given me a chance to reflect and go deeper. As I sit every day in front of my journal, wise and wonderful sayings do not automatically appear as if on cue. If they appear at all, they come unexpectedly as I follow a train of thought from one track to another, from one destination to another. Writing creates the opportunity to slow down enough to actually think. That too is a gift. I believe that we often don’t really know what we think about something until we write it down. I know this to be true for myself. There is so much swirling around in my head, deposited there through all of my senses and my daily experiences and encounters. Writing helps me figure out not only how to solve problems, but what they are. Writing helps me think through solutions, scenarios, and explore feelings. All of that knowledge is already there, in my head, a treasure trove waiting to be accessed. Writing is my way of digging for that unmined treasure.

And speaking of treasure troves, there is just so much untapped creativity in our heads. Writing, for me, has been a way to tap into it. My first book came to me as a total surprise. I didn’t set out to write a picture book. I sat down to do a writing exercise with my students. I set a timer for fifteen minutes and told them to write about school. As we all wrote in that silent classroom, the only sound was the scratching of pencils against paper and the ticking of the timer. And when the timer went off, lo and behold, I had completed the first draft of my book, First Day Jitters. The story wasn’t planned. I didn’t know that it was there, inside me, I just brought myself to the paper and I wrote the words that poured out of my head and my heart.
Salman Rushdie has said that “in this world without a quiet corner there can be no easy escapes…” Writing is my quiet corner. It provides me with an easy escape. All I need to do is pick up a pen and my journal and I can be traversing the landscape of my mind as in reflective journal writing, or I can be creating a new reality, as in fiction writing, or meeting new people, like Monet, when researching for nonfiction writing. Writing in all of its forms is a gift that has vastly enriched my life and a gift for which I am very grateful. Of course I can’t not write. And why would I want to?

Posted by Julie Danneberg, author of First Day Jitters and the forthcoming Lost and Found.

1 comment:

Catherine said...

What a wonderful post, and so true! This really resonates with me, and I thoroughly enjoy your writing!