The 3 C’s of That Keep Me Writing: A Personal Account
Writing is a necessary part of my everyday life. It keeps me balanced, organized, and whole. I write in my free time. I write for my work as a researcher and freelance writer. I’ve been writing as a freelance writer for about a year, on Medium for two years, and for academic research for nearly a decade.
I haven’t grown tired of writing in any of these areas of my life. In fact, writing, in a way, runs the maintenance of my life. My reflection on my writing journey led me to three reasons that I write: 1) Creativity, 2) Community, and 3) Connection. Let’s discuss.
Creativity as a basic need
“Wanting to change the world is not a noble calling, it’s a primal calling”
- Hugh MacLeod, Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity
While all of our creative endeavors aren’t designed for the betterment of the world, they all have some impact, even if it’s just on ourselves. Making things, especially by hand, helps us feel better. Writing by hand on physical paper just feels nice. There are some tools that sound better to me than others. In the past, I was really into the sound of the pen for the ReMarkable 2 on the e-ink screen. Now, I use a combination of analog (e.g., Midori MD paper, Lamy Safari fountain pen) and digital (iPad Air 4 with matte screen protector and Apple Pencil nib) tools that give off similar auditorial feedback. With both systems, I enjoy the initial brainstorming and drafting stages. I have fun doodling and modeling ideas, and the fun is one of the main intentions for my creative projects.
We all need an outlet. We need a way to express ourselves and to hopefully find a way to leave something special that will outlive us. In a way, our art gives us creative immortality.
Sometimes our creations also happen to inspire others. When people feel positively impacted by something that you had fun creating, the fun upgrades to magical. Meaningful feedback, whether emails, comments, or conversations, facilitates community between people. It helps us learn from each other and feel connected. We’ll talk more about community and connection in the next sections.
Community in my comfort zone
I think of myself as a quiet, reserved conversationalist. Maybe I think slowly or too much, but I like to edit and revise. Samantha Irby touches on this in her book, we are never meeting in real life. You can’t revise when speaking in “real time.” There’s no backspace. There’s not much time for reflection before responding to someone in person.
I still see people in real life, of course. I operate “normally” in physical spaces. But I find more comfort in my writing. Through writing mediums, connecting with other writers is simple in my personal and academic writing alike.
In my personal life, I schedule a weekly blog meeting with a close friend. Before we started the blog meeting, we would text around once a month. But with a set schedule and a common interest to discuss, we chat much more regularly (often biweekly instead of weekly, but more often all the same).
Similarly, in my academic work, I enjoy writing with others, especially when we have similar interests. I have met several networks of people who are interested in better understanding disparities in Alzheimer’s disease and sleep health. My closest collaborators have similar research and writing interests, and those are often the people with whom I enjoy communicating the most.
Connection with writers and readers
“When we can’t speak, we can write. When we can’t write, we can read. When we can’t read, we can listen. Words are seeds. Language is a way back to life. And it is sometimes the most vital comfort we have.”
- Matt Haig, The Comfort Book
Similar to feeling community with bloggers, co-authors, and readers, I feel a deep connection with authors. It’s comforting to know that people have similar experiences. There are authors who I’ve never met, some who I will never be able to meet, with whom I feel deeply connected.
- Octavia Butler’s writing process and mannerisms strongly resonate with me. In Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals: Women at Work, he mentions that Butler wrote every day. What is comforting to me is that she also needed substantial time to herself. She noted that she enjoyed people best when she could have more time alone. Although a bit paradoxical to the connection theme of this section, I write best early in the morning when no one else is around. I work best when I have no meetings or on weekends when I have nothing scheduled. I need unstructured time that allows for periods of stillness and solitude to work well. Like Butler, I am coming to terms that this is just who I am. That’s my weirdness.
- Samantha Irby’s words were unexpectedly comforting to me. In we are never meeting in real life, she tells genuine stories that I connected with at a time when I needed to feel like someone had experienced similar issues. So, without directly reaching out to the people who were in my life, I felt supported by Irby’s writing. I may never meet Irby in real life, as her book says, but I will be forever grateful for her genuine words:
- When she described her mother’s declining health, she mentioned her gratitude to a nurse who cared for her mother: “This is a luxury, you know, being spared the day-to-day deterioration of someone you love.” Irby reminded me of how I felt when my grandmother’s health failed and slowly progressed into debilitating stages of dementia. As I was still a child, I was mostly spared from the daily struggles. But I saw the effects that it had on members of my family who were directly involved with her care. It’s difficult to witness someone’s health decline, especially while having no ability to prevent it, but reading about others who have gone through similar experiences is consoling. The words allow for a certain literary connection — however you feel, you are often not alone in feeling that way.
- Irby also describes the shame and pressure that comes along with being a Black woman and having issues with mental health:
Not being able to deal with your life is humiliating. It makes you feel weak, and if you’re African-American and female, not only are you expected to be resilient enough to just take the hits and keep going, but if you can’t, you’re a Black [expletive] with an Attitude. You’re not mentally ill; you’re ghetto.
- People of all racial and ethnic backgrounds experience mental health problems. We all have bad days. However, there are different cultural expectations, and anecdotally, as a Black woman, it is challenging to explain to people that there are times when life feels, frankly, unbearable. I am lucky enough to have the privilege to set my own hours and reschedule as needed while still working full time. But I understand that this flexibility is unfortunately not as simple for many people. While certainly not a fix, the CDC lists some helpful resources for mental health problems.
- Langston Hughes’ Simple’s Uncle Sam short stories made me laugh (and cry). He wrote of pain, heartbreak, work, and racism in a way that felt familiar. And, somehow, he made it entertaining. Hughes’ character, Simple, often declares the difficulty of life and how it feels like life itself might kill him:
I am telling you, we has so many problems, life is liable to kill us before death does. (In Concernment)
I have had so many hardships in this life,…that it is a wonder I’ll live until I die. (In Census)
My feet have walked ten thousand miles running errands for white folks and another ten thousand trying to keep up with the colored. (In Census)
- The Simple stories resonated with me. I felt connected with them, possibly more so than I wanted to. They were poignant and funny in a bleak, yet somehow, hopeful way. Perhaps Hughes’ ability to craft these stories during such a challenging time helped me to realize that we can still forge joy in work that is predicated on pain.
These are just a few of the writers who have helped me understand my feelings. I feel connected to them across words and generations without ever having met them.
Because of the 3 C’s discussed above: creativity, community, and connection, I maintain my writing process. I read, reflect, and write. We all have something that helps keep us stable in a world that would suggest that we should feel otherwise. Writing just happens to be that thing for me.
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