Writers grow weary for many reasons.
Writing can be a lonely undertaking (maybe I’ll just check out Facebook one more time?), the blank page can feel like a gaping, intimidating cave (that sock drawer won’t organize itself, wanders off), and in today’s age of social media the balance of the private act of writing and the public image of what it means to be writing (#amwriting) can often feel discouraging. Some days, returning to the work, to that blank page, with all the exterior noise humming in our minds is too daunting. And for those seeking publication, the options and challenges appear endless. Should I try to get an agent? Should I publish independently through a small house, a hybrid, on my own? Should I try a different genre? Should I start with short stories or nonfiction articles or head straight to that novel? We start Googling, “Am I too old to go to dentist school?”
And, yet, we write. We write.
The other day, I was speaking with a writer who has been trying to get an agent for years. “It is killing my writing.” All that seeking, she meant. All that comparison to other writers. For those of us who have an agent, who might or might not have a few books in the world, this seeking doesn’t end — it changes shape. Comparisons still tap relentlessly at us. At the time of year all the “best of” lists come out you cross your fingers but, yep, your book isn’t on any of them again. Another writer you know has been asked to be on the guest faculty at a cool retreat. All these other writers are at conventions, on panels, smiling into a sea of school children with their shiny book held aloft like baby Simba in The Lion King. Everyone seems to be paying attention to the same few books over and over. All this comparison, all this otherness, stacks up on writers; we can’t help but worry: are those other writers just doing it better? Or worse: What am I doing wrong? No matter where you are in the process of your writing — whether it is a hobby or a career or an I-don’t-actually-know-what-the-heck-I’m-doing sort of scenario, the sea of comparison and public-literary-life-seeking can be agonizing.
Wait, so — what does any of this have to do with walking toward the sun?
Sitting in yoga the other day, my teacher talked to us while we, eyes (gently) closed, sat on our mats in the dim light of the studio. Over the years, my yoga teachers have said many beautiful things I have applied to my writing, but this time, this particular teacher said something specific that jolted an almost electric current through me. She told us that in yoga the goal is not to achieve something; in yoga we simply ‘practice walking toward the sun’. Sitting there on my mat, with the low chiming music ebbing around me, her words echoed: practice walking toward the sun.
It’s no secret I’m a fan of metaphor (see: anything I’ve ever written). And I have long loved the parallel of writing and yoga as a practice, as something we do again and again as a way of bringing meaning and stillness to our lives, as a way of noticing our bodies in the world. Because writing has always done this for me, this honing of awareness through the shaping of sentences, through the study of character, through the intricate (or sometimes sloppy) assembling of a plot arc. When I manage to block out the exterior world of writing and publishing, I find that each time I return to the page, I practice walking toward the sun. I find that warm glow that happens when a sentence comes together on the page, when something that began as a slim wisp of idea in my mind takes shape, becomes a solid form. I close my eyes and tip my chin toward it. I bathe in its warmth.
Turns out, this is why I write.
In addition to publishing, I was a high school teacher for eighteen years and one of the things I love most about writing with teenagers is their buy-in to this idea: that any time we create something new — a story, a poem, a song — we put something into the world that hasn’t been there before and this conjuring of our creativity is a kind of magic. It’s really that simple. This sheer act alone, this putting something singular and new into a world where people mostly “re” (repost, reTweet), matters deeply to me. And I think, if I may be so bold, it matters to us as humans. It generates heat in a world that can feel overwhelmingly cold. Therefore, we must keep practicing, over and over, in whatever form we choose. We must, simply must, keep walking toward the sun.
. . .
Kim Culbertson is the author of the YA novels Songs for a Teenage Nomad (Sourcebooks 2010), Instructions for a Broken Heart (Sourcebooks 2011), which was named a Booklist Top Ten Romance Title for Youth: 2011 and also won the 2012 Northern California Book Award for YA Fiction, Catch a Falling Star (Scholastic 2014), The Possibility of Now (Scholastic 2016), which was named a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year (2017 edition), and The Wonder of Us (Scholastic 2017). Much of her inspiration comes from her background teaching high school. In 2012, Kim wrote her eBook novella The Liberation of Max McTrue for her students, who, over the years, have taught her far more than she has taught them. Kim lives in Northern California with her husband and daughter.