The power of why
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born… and the day you find out why” – Mark Twain
Research tells us that art is good for our health. Access to ‘art and culture’ can lead directly to improvements in mental wellbeing, reducing feelings of loneliness, increasing a sense of confidence and even improving efficiency. In times of crisis, we turn to the arts – to books, to music, to film – things that allow us, as our dreams do, to work subconsciously on understanding the world around us, and how we might respond to it. As artists, we might take the opportunity to respond by creating, as well as consuming. And whilst the research on this is less fulsome, everything points to the idea that creating, as much as consuming, has an enormous impact on our overall wellbeing.
Is now the time to write the great novels of tomorrow?
Well, no, actually.
In times like these, allowing ourselves permission to be creative is critical. But that doesn’t mean that now is the time to tell yourself the only valid response is penning a future bestseller. It simply means you must allow yourself to be creative (by writing, if you are a writer) in order to deal with what’s happening in the world, and what’s happening to you. Art has always allowed us to approach difficult subjects at an angle; it makes it safer to tackle things that are too tricky, or simply too large to face head-on. Often we rather lazily dismiss this as ‘escapist’, but I think it’s deeper than that. When we talk about writing in times like these, we aren’t writing away from the world; we are writing outward from ourselves, towards a new understanding of the situation we find ourselves in, and the possibilities of the world in the ‘after’. The possibilities should feel exciting and limitless, not restrictive and fearful.
The myth of the tortured artist has a lot to answer for. A time of international crisis is a breeding ground for anxiety, not genius. Our responsibility is one of collective support of our communities, and gentle self-examination of ourselves. If you feel inspired to write, fantastic! Go for it! But if like so many writers I know you feel stuck, know you are not alone. Be kind to yourself and try instead to re-connect with why you enjoy writing in the first place.
Ask yourself: are you writing as a means to an end or a means to truth?
A means to an end might be: Now that I have time I must finally write my novel and get it published. A means to truth might be: I have something to say with this book and what I have to say is valid. Once you start writing as a means to truth, it’s almost guaranteed that not only will you feel more free and able to write, what you write will also be better, and more powerful. And that’s the literature the world needs.
You must allow yourself to write for writing’s sake. To be messy with it, to spill over and make mistakes and to be angry and to be sad and to be irreverent, to create imperfectly. And, you must allow yourself not to write. To rest, observe, dream, and focus on what keeps you grounded. On your purpose. Because to understand who you are, and what makes you feel happy, as well as what motivates you, puts you in a better position from which to write authentically.
Stay well, and let us celebrate our everyday creativity by writing freely. I hope to see some of what results in the near future, perhaps here at the Bridport Prize.
Good luck to you all.
Aki Schilz, Director at The Literary Consultancy