“I don’t want to be selfish,” is what one aspiring writer told me earlier today when I asked why they hadn’t looked at their manuscript in over six-months. She said that she, with all her heart, wanted to write but life just kept getting in the way. I asked her why she didn’t square away an hour here or there, in the early morning, or right before bed, and her only reply, set on refrain, was that to set aside that time for her craft–for herself–would be just too selfish. She has a husband, after all, along with a young child; meals to cook, a mother to call, a dog to walk, errands to run–where was this mysterious hour of me time going to come from?
Now, I am in no way writing this as a way to downgrade the hard time and work that housewives and stay at home mums put into their home-life. Instead, I’m writing this to point out something I find disturbing: for this woman, and many other brave and stressed out ladies I know, there is more than just not enough time to finish my manuscript, plaguing their life. There is a greater problem of not enough time to do anything that makes me feel valuable and whole as a human being, plaguing their life.
Writing for me, and many of my writer friends and fellow professionals, isn’t a job. It isn’t a nonessential either. It isn’t like that scrapbook that can just be tossed aside when life gets too demanding. It is vital. And, I personally believe that we, as creatives, prioritize what is vital. (Maybe everyone does?)
We prioritize what is vital because it is what fulfills our identity–our sense of self. We prioritize what is vital because it is what makes life a living, and living electric. What is vital will be different for different people. For some people, vital will be that weekend trip to Atlanta with your best friend. For another, vital might be baking those cookies with your daughter, or those kickboxing classes on Wednesday nights that you and your husband go to together. Either way, vital always involves other people. Serving others. Sharing with others. Co-creating with others. So, when some one says “I don’t have time to write, I feel so selfish taking that time for myself”, I sigh.
Writing, to me, is the ultimate act of co-creation. We take ideas. We take pieces of our life. We take pieces of our world, and splatter it on a page. Then, something magical happens…some one else reads it.
Stephen King called this writer/reader relationship a form of “telepathy”. There is few things more powerful in the world than taking an idea in my head and painting it into another person’s head. And, more the magical, that there in their head, they re-sculpt it, rotate and jumble it into their own creation–a creation that would have never existed with only a me. In writing, where there is a we worlds are raised and destroyed. This is vital. Art, imagination, creativity, compassion, and co-creation is vital.
So, how do you know it is vital? Taking another statement from Stephen King, you know it if you get a buzz off it. It isn’t a drudgery you make yourself do, it is THE THING you do. And, if it is vital, if it is meaningful, it isn’t selfish. Authenticity is not selfish. Killing your sense of identity, hiding the beautiful bits of yourself from your family is. They want you. Your kids want you. Your husband wants YOU. So be more you.
But, if you find that the dream of that manuscript was just a pipe dream, something that sounded like a cool idea but in the end you never had the heart for it, then yes, you are just being selfish. Maybe writing that book wasn’t vital, maybe it wasn’t that thing you got your buzz from. Maybe the thought of writing a book isn’t what sparks your sense of self and community. Maybe nothing about the process helps you to feel more connected with others.
So, what does?
If writing a book doesn’t feed your soul, what about reading a book? Reading a book to your daughter? Does that feed something? No matter what, whatever you do, whether you finish a manuscript or not, don’t stop building worlds. Don’t stop building worlds together. Don’t stop making places you can play in with others. Don’t stop being human– a living, thriving person–because there is nothing more selfish in this world than refusing to come out and play.