Saturday, August 22, 2015

write for joy

On our flight home from Kenya last year, I found myself seated next to a tall, handsome German man, whom I eventually found the courage to talk to. On hearing I'd been in the country with a medical team, he perked up and asked with increased curiosity, "Are you a doctor?"

I responded with pride, as I always do, "No, I'm a writer."

He seemed let down. The conversation lost its momentum. Eventually, we both put our headphones on and looked for a movie to watch.

I share that story first as an example of a time I've intimated conversation with a tall good looking stranger. But more, because I find not only pride but also identity in my pursuit of writing. Like most pursuits, it's more than a job; it's a vocation. It's how I make sense of the world, live out my desire and hopefully touch the lives of others. 

But I have days. Days when I'm not feeling it, when I am failing, when I hear feedback that convinces me I've chosen wrong. And it's on these days that I remember that writing doesn't define who I am. Whether I succeed to move people or make them laugh or think differently through something I've written isn't the thing that gives me value. If I write or if I don't write, I will still be who I am. I will still be loved.

Over the past few weeks, I've been noticing how much my mood depends on how successful or recognized I feel as a writer. I've been comparing myself to other writers and creatives and professionals to understand how I measure up, but this little game is dubious. This year in Kenya, on a team with some really gifted doctors, nurses, and a videographer, I got myself a little mixed up in this comparison game. The doctors and nurses were so skilled and helpful during clinics. I mean, they had a real, concrete, in-the-moment impact, and as a result, patients expressed their gratitude. Team members congratulated each other. And our videographer - he was shooting and uploading constantly, which meant there were photos to see and videos to watch, along with excited team members watching them. And I - had nothing except for a few ideas born in conversations with people, a few notes scribble down, and some dreams. Writing can feel slow, inefficient, unpractical, ineffective, laborious. In other words, don't go into writing if you're looking to feel good about yourself, kids.

I could tell you other stories from the past few weeks when I have felt like quitting and just living a small, normal life where I come home and watch tv on netflix after dinner every night. But then I come home and open my computer and try to find a few words to piece together, and I remember, I write because I love to do it.

So, my motto this week has been write for joy. Not for identity or value or proving my skill or impact in some grand way. Find the joy in it. And just keep writing.

(Tall, goodlooking German men on airplanes be damned!)

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