The world is rich with encouraging words for writers. Some of my favorite right now come from Neil Gaiman, who in a commencement speech said: “Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.” I’m pretty sure I can make some glorious mistakes.
The ether is also lousy with bad advice. Too often, this is what sticks. Once, just after college, I met a lauded children’s book author, who had been invited to speak to a group of smart, creative kids about his writing process. Afterwards, I confessed my own ambitions, and he said “you have to be experienced to be a writer; you have to really live in the world before you can do anything important.” Discouraging words. Presumptuous. Ironic. Moronic. Don’t even dare to make, create, do, or try until you’re older? I wanted to cover the ears of all children within a twenty mile radius. I wanted to cover my own ears too.
Even my most beloved poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, let me down a little when, in offering advice to a young poet, famously insisted that one ask the question “must I write?” And, if the answer is less than a resounding “yes,” he lamented that “to feel that one could live without writing is enough indication that, in fact, one should not.” I tested myself during a long hiatus from writing adventures while I recovered from graduate school. Nope—I did not have to write; I proved it by not writing. Or did I?
The page stayed blank, but my creative energy spewed over everything else. Intricately constructed cheese boards emerged. Surreal mantle displays surfaced, along with invented games, and shrines devoted to all variations of the color green. My living space transformed into a museum of I’m-not-writing art installations. Creativity is a natural state, it seems. Our imaginations may have been squelched by those who meant well, or didn’t, but we all have a spark of something.
So, why are folks so eager to set up boundaries around the imagination? Why do we let them? The mantras of the gatekeepers have always been with us. You are an artist only if…you’re too young, you’re too old…you aren’t wise, smart, damaged, poor, rich, connected enough to make it as a writer, why even try? For those of us who consider artistic endeavor an important act of resistance in dark times, it’s even more necessary to ignore these and to persist right now. While bullies with power choose to destroy, others must dare to create. Young, old, solvent, broke, connected, friendless, all. The world can afford nothing less.
Here are some moves that help me press on. Find others who are also engaged in their own creative work. (Hello, BACCA. Thanks for having me.) Write nearly every day and lose yourself in it. Be brave enough to jump down the rabbit hole. I’m never sorry when I do. Discover beauty everywhere—spring is a great time for this. It’s hard to imagine a more audacious rebel than spring.
And…listen to the encouraging words. A few more from Neil Gaiman: “Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.”
Noelle Beverly writes poetry and prose, promotes local authors in the surrounding community, and is new member of the BACCA Literary group. Photos by the author.