I was lying on the floor next to my dog Hamachi, rubbing her belly and crooning into her ear about how beautiful she is, what a wonderful friend she is, how much I love her. As she smiled and yowled back at me through her crooked little front teeth and her black-lipped snarl, I marveled that I had lived with this dog for twelve years and neither of us had ever uttered a comprehensible thing to the other.
If you live with dogs, you know that this language barrier doesn’t matter. We affirm our affection and devotion through our daily charades of feeding, petting, walking, and intertwined sleep. Not only does it not matter that my dog and I can’t talk to each other, it may be exactly why our love is so undeniable. When I shared this observation with my friend Dale, he elaborated: “You don’t ever hear people asking, ‘Did I choose the right dog?’ We are just happy to love whatever dog we picked.”
It’s true: We don’t tend to wonder what our relationship with our dog should give us, or worry that we could have had a better walk with a different canine. We just show up, day after day, year after year, and do what needs to be done to cultivate a shared love and a shared life.
Our writing lives can be this simple and uncomplicated—and can benefit from this same kind of unconditional devotion.
As writers, we have a tendency to doubt our choices, question our themes, reconsider our genres, and imagine that every writer on the planet is doing something more important, more impressive, more coherent, and more likely to result in success.
Well, guess what? I hate to burst your envy bubble, but you’re not going to get any more important, impressive, coherent, or successful by being someone you’re not—or by attempting work that you are not called to create. Doubting your commitment and your capacity, or wishing that you or your writing were something else entirely, will only keep you immobilized.
My whole life I have been consumed with making sense of how people evolve and heal in relationships with other people. This was once a source of humiliation for me. For decades, I yearned to write about the more “important” themes other people addressed in their writing. Then, after half a lifetime of writing what I couldn’t help but write, I started to notice that the current of my deepest question, How do we become our most authentic selves and live our best lives?, was leading me to some surprising and life-changing revelations that deeply affected my readers and me.
In effect, I loved my writing so much that my doubt had little room to generate turbulence. Had I listened to my (very loud and quite insistent) inner critics, who were unconvinced that my theme of choice was worthy, I never would have arrived at the vistas of insight and liberation I’ve discovered along the way.
This is why I believe our job as writers is to welcome the writing we are called to do in the same way we love the animals in our lives: with everything we’ve got. To trust that the material we have chosen (or that has chosen us) is the path to our deepest riches. When love leads us, day by day, we can cultivate a practice through which our accountability to ourselves and our work becomes undeniable.
Let yourself be obsessed. Let yourself coo in your writing’s ear and tell it that it is the most beautiful, the most perfect companion you could ever imagine. Know that it is the sound of your voice the writing loves, as well as the sound of your footsteps as you approach your writing chair. It waits for you in the lost place that is the unwritten page, one ear pricked, with the enormity of its single-minded desire to join you wherever you are headed next.
(Excerpted from Fierce on the Page)
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What are you called to write, and how have you learned to welcome it? What are you struggling to accept in your writing life, and how might you make a little more space for it in your heart and on the page?