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The Best Thing About Being a Writer – The Inner Life by Rachel Ward

Mark Twain said, “What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, not those of other things, are his history. These are his life, and they are not written. Everyday would make a whole book of 80,000 words — 365 books a year.”

He makes it sound exhausting, but it’s true, isn’t it? Our brains are ceaselessly active (except for times when we deliberately try to still the mind, I suppose, like meditation). We constantly observe and record the outside world: places, people, conversations; books, films, television programmes. We all do it, consciously and unconsciously, and we process what we observe, awake and asleep, and yet we only glimpse a tiny amount of what is going on in other people’s minds

A.S. Byatt called a person’s inner life ‘the furniture inside his skull.’ As well as all the outside influences, past and present, this furniture includes curiosity, empathy, imagining and daydreaming. Of course, this is true for everyone. It’s part of what makes us human, but as writers we depend on this inner life. We nurture it and mine it for our stories. We rearrange the furniture, mulling things over and going off on wild tangents. We upcycle ideas, embellish and decorate. Sometimes we strip them back to their basic forms and start again. The staple tool of our trade is the question, ‘What if?’

The American philosopher Martha Nussbaum wrote about the importance of storytelling in the development of all of us. ‘Storytelling plays a big role in the process of development. As we tell stories about the lives of others, we learn how to imagine what another creature might feel in response to various events. At the same time, we identify with the other creature and learn something about ourselves. So … read a lot of stories, listen to a lot of music, and think about what the stories you encounter mean for your own life and lives of those you love. In that way, you will not be alone with an empty self; you will have a newly rich life with yourself, and enhanced possibilities of real communication with others.’

I shudder at the bleakness of ‘an empty self’. I’ve felt that way (feel that way) from time to time but I’m starting to understand that books, films, art and music really do feed the soul and help to build up the resources we all need to face adversity, in addition to refilling the well of potential ideas, characters and plots I need for my writing. So it’s okay to take time to reflect. It’s actually essential. We’ve all got deadlines and pressures but now and again give yourself permission not to meet today’s word count, to step away from the screen, walk over the hills, take up a paintbrush, sneak into the cinema or have lunch in a café and listen to other people’s stories (by which I mean have a conversation with your lunch buddy, not eavesdrop on the table next to you … but, then again …).

I know I’m lucky to have a job which cherishes the inner life. It’s definitely one of the best things about being a writer (along with flexibility, freedom, and feedback from my lovely readers). If you are reading this and you’re a writer too, whether you are published or not, full-time or squeezing your writing between your day job and your family, I hope that writing helps you to appreciate and develop your inner resources and encourages you to look for inspiration within and without you. If you’re not a writer, I wish you the same.

Postscript: Searching for ‘inner life’ I came across these two quotes which made me smile:

• ‘Your inner light is greater than the darkness. May your light shine brightly in every path you travel.’ – Lailah GiftyAkita

• ‘See also ‘inner child.’ – online dictionary. Ooh, that’s a whole other blog.

Rachel Ward
Website|Blog|Goodreads|Twitter

Rachel Ward grew up in Surrey. After school she studied Geography at Durham University and combined working for a number of local authorities with raising a family. She began writing in her 30’s, starting out with short stories. One of these short stories formed the first chapter of NUMBERS, which has been published in 26 countries and was the winner of several awards including the Flemish Children and Youth Literature Prize 2011, Angus Book Awards 2010 and the Salisbury Schools Book Award 2012, as well as being shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2009, the Branford Boase Award 2010 and the Deutscher Jugendliteraturepreis 2011.

BOOKS: NUMBERS | THE CHAOS | INFINITY | THE DROWNING | WATER BORN

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This entry was posted on September 24, 2014 by .

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