Creativity begins with courage

Photo by Hannu-Pekka Peuranen

What if J.K. Rowling crumbled in fear when she finished writing the first Harry Potter book and then decided to stash the unpublished manuscript under her bed? What if she gave up after being bombarded by rejection letters? Harry Potter would have turned to dust. There would be a mysterious hole in the childhood of Rowling’s fans worldwide.

She did it anyway.

If there is one thing I learned about pursuing writing as a career, it would be to keep coming back to your soul for courage.

The rest is mechanics.

A hint of inclination can be nurtured. Writing can be learned. Resources can be easily accessed online or at the library. Traveling to find more materials or inspiration is also easier nowadays.

But there is no course that guides artists in exploring their depths. There is no single formula on how they can remain true to their expressions regardless of what others may think of them. There is no button to press to shut down the jitters that come with submitting an article or a painting for public viewing or consumption. There is no app that would reset one’s feelings after a piece of work got rejected.

It all comes back to your courage.

The kind that comes from your soul. Only the soul can mirror your thoughts and feelings. If you know what is true, then you can preserve it in your art. You will be brave enough to believe in what you can offer to the world even if there are grander works out there. You will not get tired of rising nor be scared after failing over and over.

Don’t let what’s inside be clouded by glossy distractions and unnecessary noises, even those that rumble in your head.

The soul is every artist’s weapon.

Its courage hardly dries up.

The one less traveled by

Photo by Alexa Mazzarello

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

 

My husband told me one night that a colleague asked about my work–which is perfectly normal because what other comfortable opening topic would you ask about a friend’s spouse? But the jolt came after the next question: does she never get bored writing?

An image of myself suddenly blew up in my head–in my baggy shorts, arched over a laptop, eyes squinching, and mouthing words as if the insects and the cabinet staring at me all day aren’t as freaked out as they are yet.

Some say I am lucky, but I think they only say that because they are in a job they want to constantly escape from and not because they see writing as a sky full of fireworks. Those who are used to their tuneful, multihued worlds from 9 to 5 would find my work setting bizarre, lonely, even boring.

But boring, in my eyes, is getting stuck on the road for hours with my brain forced to stay blank and quiet. Lonely to me is cheap office politics or a never-ending dissection of a colleague’s personal life. Bizarre to me is chasing whatever the world tells you to chase to achieve the “good life,” which the media portray as something you can only achieve based on your status and material things. Escape to me is not waking up each day to do what I love. But this is just me. I have so much respect for those who work hard and thrive every single day despite the hurdles and the dreadful traffic. They do it for a reason. And it just happens that mine is a little far from what is “normal.”

In fact, I’ve turned down job offers, including an editor in chief position and a chance to travel abroad for free, because I know they would steal away the hours I need for my current tasks and finishing a special project that involves so much writing. There were relatives, friends, and acquaintances who even offered me jobs after they learned what I do. It was funny most of the time, and sometimes, I am tempted to create a Powerpoint presentation just to explain what I do to the world. But it was also the same craft that taught me about humility and how to let go of things you cannot control.

Being a writer is not like having an Iron Man suit that one can wear or take off. Being a writer is like having a second skin. It’s with me anywhere I go–consciously or unconsciously. I go to the library, and I would leaf through books in hopes of spotting something that could help me with my research. I go to the grocery store and if I chance on old friends and find their nuances interesting, then voila! I have new characters for my stories. Writing magnifies life and untangles its complexities for me. Writing helps me trace the uncharted parts of myself. It teaches me things I could never learn by submitting myself to superficial systems in the world. Most importantly, writing, in the words of Chilean-American writer Isabel Allande, is a calling, not a choice. It’s a kind of happiness that you do not have to seek, to create, or to run after because it just…happens.

“What did you tell him?” I asked my husband.

“I said no.”

“How did you know that? You never asked me that question,” I said.

“Because I’ve seen it with my own eyes–”

“What?”

“–you were literally smiling while writing.”

I was astounded.

It’s either I am losing more screws or just really happy.

Then, I advised him that the next time people would ask him that question, he may tell them:

“It may seem like she’s surrounded by gray clouds and spider webs, but she said that inside her bubble, there are actually musical notes, rainbows, and unicorns. And she wishes everyone the same joy.”