Ever since I was old enough to read, I knew I wanted to be a writer.
But alongside my love of creating other worlds, there has always been something else tugging at me; a certain curiosity about human nature. It’s part of the writer-as-observer, of course – the dissecting of motivations, the analysing of behaviour and character, seeing how certain actions or internal blocks result in drama. But it’s more than that. I don’t just enjoy the intellectual pursuit of studying people; I love to see them change and grow in real life.
This is why, if I hadn’t become a writer, I’d definitely have been a therapist.
My best friend is a psychotherapist and I always knew she would be. Aged 11, we’d call each other up every evening after school. I’d sit in the hall, hogging the landline (because back in those days it was a landline, stuck to the wall, immovable) and we’d talk back through our day – what was happening, how we felt, what we were going to do next. Mini counselling sessions for mini-us.
We carried this tradition on into our teens and our twenties and our thirties, through phone calls and emails and visits to each other’s houses and spa days and holidays, with wine and without. These days, we take weekly walks around the park in between work commitments and everything has changed and nothing has changed, as we talk through our days, our lives – What’s happening? How do we feel? What we are going to do next?
While my best friend followed her calling to become the brilliant therapist she now is, I followed mine to become a writer. But it is thanks to these self-development tools that I have always loved – the introspection, the analysis with gifted friends, and the therapy I have benefited from myself – that I’ve been able to do what I love for a living.
Now, as a teacher of creative writing classes and a creative mentor, it’s these techniques, as much as any literary devices, that I find myself coming back to as the basis for how we carve out a writing life.
Writing and therapy have so much in common. Which is to say, writing and living have so much in common.
You can’t control writing, you have to trust the process, let it take you where it wants you to go. Sometimes your writing needs structure, sometimes it needs room to just be, and you won’t always know which time is which. Sometimes you’ll be in the pure, joyful moment, sometimes it’ll feel like hard graft. Sometimes things will happen that will make you feel wretched and inadequate and raw. Sometimes you will know, for maybe a fleeting minute, precisely how wonderful you are.
Sometimes, often, in writing as in life, you’ll be getting in the way of your own forward momentum. Here, you must focus on removing the blocks so that you can enjoy the flow of creativity and happiness that is your due.
And there’s no way to get it right! Crazy but true. Living and writing aren’t meant to be the pursuit of perfection. Well, not if you want to be happy, anyway.
Instead, it’s all just food for growth. We’ll go wrong, and we’ll correct our course, time and time again, and there will ALWAYS be more to learn. But, as I have learned to my eternal gratitude, we’ll stay more on path than off if we have people in our lives who are willing to ask us (and if we are willing to ask ourselves) the same few simple questions:
What’s happening? How do you feel about it? And what are you going to do next?