Writers are always hungry for compelling topics to explore. The problem is that the best ones are mortifying.
—Ralph Keys, The Courage to Write
Despite their claims to the contrary, I really do listen when people are speaking to me. I know what they are saying and why they are saying it. I understand the points they’re trying to make or the things they’re trying to share. I’m a great listener, though that’s usually proven after the fact. During, though, is something else entirely.
Everyone from friends to family have said it’s because of my eyes. Evidently at the beginning of a conversation they’re directed outwardly toward the person to whom I’m speaking. But then there always seems to come an inevitable point at which they seem to either almost turn inward or outward even further, off into some other place as if I’ve lost interest. I assure them that’s not the case at all, and it isn’t. I am genuinely interested in what people have to say to me. Though I must say that interest has a bit of selfishness to it.
Those who know me well and talk to me often have come to accept all of this as an aspect of my passion rather than a flaw of my character. They see my eyes, know what’s going on behind them, and understand that it’s something I cannot help. It’s at that point when they all utter the same four-word question that, if answered in the affirmative, allows them some understanding and me the alleviation of guilt:
“You’re writing, aren’t you?”
The answer is always yes, I am writing. It’s a question and an answer that does not depend upon location, either. If someone in my family were to peek in the door right now and ask that question, my answer to them would be both obvious and understandable. I’m sitting at my desk with my coffee, my computer, and a stack of books. Of course I’m writing.
But where family and friends sometimes stumble is with this one simple yet profound truth—a writer is always writing. It is not merely a job and never a hobby. It is not something that can be picked up and then placed down at will. Writing is a jealous spouse or a rare flower—it demands your constant attention.
And you will give it willingly, if only because you are just as jealous of it. Writing and the writer are locked in an eternal embrace that is part devotion and part fear the one will wander too far from the other. That is why a writer is always writing. Why life itself appears not as a blank page, but one that is a hodgepodge of words that need to be ordered so the story can shine through.
It’s also the reason for my wandering eyes. There is a friendly separation between writer and world. Life unfolds itself upon the stage and the author is its audience, there not merely to applaud but to take note. Writers are the true historians. We lay a foundation of the present upon which the future can be built. That’s why every conversation, every circumstance, everything, is approached under the assumption that it’s something that can be written about.
Because, really, anything can be written about. Not because nothing is sacred, but because everything is.
That’s why a writer is always working. Always trying to piece together the next story or scene, always trying to find the wisdom in the moment.
Which leads to a curious question.
If all of what I’ve said is true—and I believe it is—can anything truly bad happen to a writer? Is there any situation, any event, that with time and healing cannot be put to the page?
I’ve yet to answer that question for myself. Have you?