Why I Write

Writing defines me. It has become my way of looking at the world, of understanding myself and others, of creating and shaping my life. Before I started writing, my sense of self was vague and unformed, my social skills deficient. I spoke little, avoided groups, and had few clear opinions.

Unlike many people, I am a visual thinker. I form memories from mental images and pictures. Even though I grew up in the Midwest, English always seemed like a second language to me, and I struggled to put my thoughts into words.

Clearly, becoming a writer wasnít my childhood dream. I never thought of myself as creative, and I drifted through a series of jobs: landscaping, construction, Forest Service work, group homes, nursing homes. Eventually I returned to school and became a physical therapist, but my real passion was judo; I trained four days per week, and placed in several state and regional tournaments.

I didnít come to writing; writing came to me. On a trip to San Francisco in 1995, I entered a bookstore and found Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way. I was very drawn to the cover artócranes circling a snowy peakóand intrigued by the subtitle: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.

Twelve-step programs had introduced me to spirituality; at that time I had been clean and sober for thirteen years. Alcohol and drugs had lost their appeal; unfortunately, so had the meetings. Recovery felt stale, my participation forced.

This book beckoned me to a new spiritual path. Ultimately, though, creativity meant little to me, so I replaced the book and bought some postcards to send home.

Six months later, back in Missouri, I picked out books in a local bookstore. The clerk rang up my purchase and punched my discount card, informing me that I had earned a free book.

Iíve always been an avid reader of fiction, so I looked through their novels, but that night none caught my eye. Then I saw that book with the cranes on the cover. In flipping through it, I noted some references to twelve-step recovery, so I took it. Didnít me cost anything.

The next day I was at the dojo, working out with a ďheavy ropeĒóa plastic jump rope weighted with lead shot. My sensei entered and greeted me. When I looked up at him, I stepped on the rope and fell. My right ankle immediately began to swell; I had damaged soft tissue, ligaments and nerves, ending my chances for the spring tournament season.

That night I got a splint and crutches. The next day, we had a 22-inch snowstorm, almost unheard of in Missouri. I couldnít get around at all. I resigned myself to the sofa, where I began to read The Artist's Way. It turned out to be a workbook for creative recovery, with assignments at the end of each chapter.

The following Monday, I tried to return to work, but before I even made it to the building my crutches slipped on a sheet of ice. I fell, spraining my left wrist.

I couldnít train; I couldnít work; I could barely walk. I couldnít even play video games. Fortunately my right hand still worked. I began The Artist's Way in earnest, tackling all the writing exercises. In a couple of weeks, I had used up all the paper in the house. I sent for more and kept going with the book.

The Artistís Way teaches that all creativity has a spiritual component. The writing revitalized my relationship with a Higher Power. AA saved my life, but writing introduced me to my soul. I began to use it as a spiritual practice, combining daily journaling with personal writing retreats in monasteries and convents.

By the end of 1995, I had written over 3000 pages by hand. In 1996, on the third anniversary of my grandmotherís death, I wrote my first short story; it was later published in a literary journal. I taught myself to type, and began to send work to anthologies and journals.
In early 1997 I joined a local writing group; by April I had become the group leader. Much of my first novel was written on those Wednesday nights. Iíve been fortunate enough to write in a creative community ever since.

Since I started The Artistís Way in 1995, my life has changed completely. Iíve gone from daily workouts to daily writing; I work part-time in order to spend more time on writing and workshops. My community is one of writers, and Iíve seen some marvelous growth and success in former and current workshop members. For a time, I ran a workshop for writers with special needs, who had some honest and amazing voices. One of the woman, who had such severe spasticity that she had to dictate her work to me, was published in a literary journal. 

One woman from my Amherst Writers & Artists workshop has two books out now with a small press; another signed a deal with Simon & Schuster. More than a dozen have published their first poem, short story or article.

My own first book, a novel about a womanís recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous, came out on my 21st sobriety anniversary. Iíve finished two more manuscripts and am trying to find a publisher for them.

Beyond that, writing granted me a voice. Iíve learned that for a visual thinker, itís often easier for ideas to find their way to paper than to speech, so daily writing has become the way I process ideas. When I was in therapy, I always brought in pages of my thoughts and feelings to begin a session. Now I use writing to communicate with friends and family.

Writing allows me to put words to my thoughts. It gives me confidence in my ability to express myself. It allows me to make sense of the world. If I learned today that I would never publish another word, I would still begin every morning with a cup of coffee, my cats and my computer, putting my thoughts on the page.