Tag Archives: transformation

4 reasons why writers need to take their freedom seriously

1. Writers hold out a vision of transformation

The writing life demands a degree of reflection.

Writers are people who walk around with their senses open, determined to stay awake in a world where so many people seem to be half asleep.

Writers are those with imagination and insight.

They are people who reflect an extraordinary world within that can transform the world without.

Writers are not those who go with the flow.

People may claim to often that a book is ‘life-changing’ but nonetheless every time we read, there is the possibility of a new perspective and growth.

And if the written word is so transformative then the chances are that writers have power and responsibility.

2. Writers are witnesses

When Geoff Dyer asked John Berger what he saw as the ‘job of his life’, replied:

Perhaps I am like all people who tell stories — storytellers lose their identity and are open to the lives of other people. Maybe when you look at their entire output you can see something that really belongs to that one person. But at any one moment it is difficult to see what the job of your life is because you are so aware of what you are lending yourself to. This is perhaps why I use the term “being a witness.” One is witness of others but not of oneself.

For Berger, this sense of being a witness involved total immersion and openness to other people and other places.

The notion of the writer as witness is a lot to live up to, yet it is compelling. In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron challenges writers to become witnesses. There are countless novels that are a testimony not only inward states, human emotion and condition, but also to events.

Books like Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man witness to the legacy of the Holocaust, so that it becomes part of common consciousness.

The film Hiroshima mon amor, from the book by Marguerite Dumas, witnesses to the existential crisis of lovers who need to cling to one another after horror.

The South African poet, Mongane Wally Serote witnesses to the events of apartheid:

I want to look at what happened,

That done,

As silent as the roots of plants pierce the soil

I look at what happened…

When knives creep in and out of people

As day and night into time.

And the list could go on.

Extraordinary writing witnesses not only to historical or political events, but also to emotional states and human relationships.

3. Writers reconstitute the world

As people who bear witness to the human condition; witness to stories that would otherwise go unheard and to the possibilities that lie ahead, writers deal with how much we can achieve.

As Adrienne Rich puts it:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.

This requires belief in freedom. By opening up new horizons through writing, writers take on enormous responsibility. Our writing shifts the perspective of readers and widens their choices as a result. Thought is a powerful thing.

4. Writers shape reality

What do we believe about reality? How do we conceive the nature of our existence and freedom?

None of us can transcend the facts of existence: we exist in a universe of physical laws and principles. Environment, language and culture shape us in complex ways. And to some extent we never become aware of all these influences or shake free of them.

But we are not reducible to those influences. Neither are we the roles we adopt; none of us is only a writer, a mother, a daughter, a musician. Only objects or deities (if they figure in your world view) are wholly one thing. God is God. A table is a table.

Human beings are complex and changeable. We are conscious, or should be if we are brave enough to stay awake in the world.

Humans can transcend certain ‘givens’ –

  • the class we’re born into
  • the racial stereotypes projected onto us
  • the social expectations around us are not who we are.

As Sartre claims, we have the ability to negate these expectations and to become anything.

And it’s not only philosophers who think like this. Increasingly, research suggests not only that we have plastic brains that can adapt and change, but also that our biology is more fluid than we conceived previously. (Studies in epigenetics are rapidly expanding our understanding of this, for example. Nessa Carey’s The Epigenetics Revolution)

This amount of freedom is terrifying and wonderful. It means that authentic living requires that we take our autonomy seriously.

It means that I am never identical with my current ‘self’, yet always responsible for sustaining, challenging and growing it.

It means I can’t hide behind phrases like ‘ this is the way I am’ or ‘it’s in my genes/my past experiences…’

If I choose to remain a certain way, it is a choice, and there is no lying to myself about that. Quoting Sartre:

You can always make something out of what you’ve been made into.

The inner world is a powerful place that changes how we experience the outer world.

Stories, poems and articles make their way into our subconscious and transform how we interact with the world and impact on it.

By being writers who take this seriously we open up a world of new thinking and new ways of being, for ourselves and for those who engage with our writing.

Writing is an awesome thing to do and we do it best when we become people who take our freedom and imagination seriously.

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You can always reinvent yourself for the better

Resistance is the secret of joy
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Alice Walker’s protagonist, Tashi, declares this towards the end of the novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy. There’s something to be said for being able to withstand hard times, keeping going and remaining determinedly consistent, whether in a writing project or in life. I’ve always had a high tolerance for routine and stubbornly putting one foot in front of the other. My childhood led to me becoming a stoic with a work ethic that has told me to ‘get on with it’. And I’ve sometimes had to reinvent myself when circumstances closed doors unexpectedly.
 
But along the way I’ve also learned that it’s not all about resistance and stoically getting on with things. Five things in particular have made a huge difference to being able to keep going when things got overwhelming. We can always reinvent ourselves for the better and doing this has been key to every transformation I’ve made.
 

1. Reach out to others

 
I was raised to do things myself and not to ask for help. But when the press I founded hit a funding crisis a few years ago I learned that reaching out, for ideas and for practical support, is a much better solution. It sounds obvious, but asking for help is one of the most profound things I’ve learned to do as an adult.
 
In the film About a Boy (from the novel by Nick Hornby) the summing up is that we need people. We are not islands, as John Donne noted, and if we behave like we need no one we’ll soon find we have no one. Both writing and life require collaboration. And the more generous that collaboration is, the more support and inspiration everyone involved will experience.
 

2. Be generous

 
When we live as though resources (whether material or emotional) are in short supply, it’s likely to become true. The converse is also the case. Generosity is vital to living abundantly and there are so many ways to be generous, with our time, with our attention, with our skills … the list is endless.
 
When we give, it changes us. When we act like love, kindness and time are not about to run out forever, we become different people, we are telling a different story about ourselves.
 
 

3. Take time out to discover your passion

 
Earlier in 2017 I was lucky to experience the amazing benefits of travel and deep, focussed writing time for a whole month in Budapest. It was a life-changing month. I returned with a persistent voice in my head that now insists there is always an alternative way to achieve your passions. Listening to that voice has been terrifying at times. It’s telling me I need to take more time for my own writing and that this can be as good for Cinnamon Press as it is for me; making the press tighter, more focussed, more excellent whilst not consuming all of my time.
 
My passions are writing and travel. I love Cinnamon Press and the work I do with authors, but I know I have to make the two things work together to stay true to myself.
 

4. Invest in yourself

 
So many of us have been taught to put ourselves last. Egoism isn’t pretty and I’m not advising it, but investing in our skills; using time for self-development and education instead of Internet surfing and mass entertainment enables us to hone skills and reflect on values. In 2018 I’m giving a big chunk of time to my writing skills and to making goals happen. It’s part of a long journey and you can read more about it in this blog by Benjamin P Hardy on Huffpost.
 

5. Dig Deeper

As we approach 2018, what’s your inner voice telling you? If it’s telling you to keep quiet and put up with being overwhelmed, overworked or miserable, don’t listen. Dig deeper, find your passion and go for it. Don’t let your life be run for you and don’t listen to anything that whispers that your creative passions are self-indulgent. The more creative you are and the more you do what you love the more you will have to give to the world.
Thank you for reading. I’d love you to sign up to follow the blog and receive my newsletter and you can also follow my writing on Medium.

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