There’s an allure to penning words, poetry and being able to call yourself a writer. Somewhere in between staring at a blank screen and your third cup of coffee does that feel of Hemingway in a coffee shop begin to wane. Writing is grueling. It can rattle your confidence and rip out every ounce of emotions you didn’t even know existed. It’s exhausting, but simultaneously beautiful. The dance of pen and writer is a tumultuous, gorgeous, laborious and a wild version of the meringue. It certainly isn’t for the faint of heart.
I’ve had moments when I’ve found myself yelling at a screen, lost in thought as I was grappling for the appropriate words to use. Likewise, there are those times when I’ve had to close my laptop and walk away in hopes that a little down time might refresh my brain cells. But I write because even though it’s a love-hate relationship, it has become my method of releasing a cyclone of thoughts and ideas that would otherwise circulate through my mind—I’m not sure that’s such a good thing. Writing has become a healthy release and a form of expression that has changed my life.
For the past thirteen years I have walked the hallways of the same Southern New Jersey high school of my past as an addictions counselor. I have worked with hundreds of kids and discussed issues such as addiction, recovery, self-harm, depression, bullying, grief, etc. I can confidently say that I’ve never had a boring day. I love what I do. From the second I flip on the light switch in my office, to turning it back off again, nothing is predictable and it’s expected to anticipate the unexpected. In thirteen years, I have worked with young people who are no longer on this earth. That’s a tough reality to digest. There are days I have been tempted to find a gig slinging pancakes or crunching numbers. But honestly, I feel honored to work with the hearts of kids who just need some reassurance, care and compassion.
In the last five years I found my hands twitching. I desired to transfer what I was seeing on a daily basis onto paper. My heart was aching to get the word out in addressing addiction, self -harm and all other mental health topics to a wider audience. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. It is heart wrenching knowing how many people are unaware of the raw issues connected to prescription pill abuse, mental health issues and the correlation between social media with bullying, drug access and a million other things. My heart just wants to write as my means to soften hearts and open minds.
I hold my Bachelor’s Degree in English, but it wasn’t until I allowed myself to really live, experience and be challenged that I was ready to write. I believe that anyone can throw some words, emotions and stanzas on paper. Just like when making a cake, there has to be a balance of ingredients and that’s a clincher in achieving good, seasoned content. If you have a tablespoon of flour, four eggs and three cups of sugar, you’re in for an interesting version of a cake. The right ingredients allow for the perfect cake. The same truth applies to writing.
Don’t try to imitate another author in style or vibe. Allow your words to represent you; anything else compromises your quality of work.
Quality takes time. Allocate a certain amount of time daily and throughout your week to sit and brainstorm, write and create. Let things flow where they do best for you. That may be in a coffee shop, your kitchen table or a recliner outside under your favorite tree.
Get out there…
Seriously, there is a great big world out there! Whether it be a road trip to a different county, state or even country….go! Experiencing diverse people and places is enlightening, life altering and allows us to grow as people. It can also ignite ideas and new directions for writing.
Go beyond you….
Volunteer, give back and do something for someone else. That can be volunteering at a soup kitchen, donating blankets to be used for the homeless, buying a cup of coffee for a person in uniform, or donating blood. Going beyond ourselves has the tendency to keep our priorities in check, expand our thinking and enhance personal growth.
You’re not perfect….
Be prepared to face a returned manuscript or rejected article. It happens and if it hasn’t, it will. Just stand up, dust yourself off and keep on keeping on. Fixating on your shortcomings merely takes the winds out of your sails and gets your flow off track.
Take care of yourself…
Making yourself a priority both emotionally and physically can be challenging, but when the wheels are well greased and maintained, the efficiency and quality of writing typically reflect that. When our minds are cluttered it makes fluid writing challenging. Whether clearing your mind consists of a walk around your block, reading a good book, catching up with an old friend, playing the guitar or listening to music, allow for time to re-charge, re-group and clear your mind. It’s so worth it.
Writing is a journey and a challenge that is worth its weight in gold. Keep pressing forward and never stop growing. Believe in you. Rock on!
Erin Lawler Patterson is a high school addictions counselor, blogger, writer, life coach and surfer. Check out her blog: www.goodnesschick.com