It was a night when sleep eluded me, when the continental divide between my deepest life questions and the trivial worries of the day narrowed into a sliver of fear. So I was already awake when I heard a loud thud from inside my apartment.
I reached for the nearest weapon, a baseball-sized river rock that decorates my nightstand, and tiptoed down the hall to investigate.
Before the thud, I was tossing about at 3 am, fretting and frustrated about my erstwhile writing career. After some sustained and satisfying stretches of popular blog posts and promising manuscript development, I had tumbled into a state of self-loathing. My ideas weren’t unique. My concept had “jumped the shark.” I was an expert in nothing, a two-bit philosopher trying to paint herself as some self-annointed sage.
My most rewarding writing stint was two years ago, in Costa Rica. For the first six months of 2013, I lived in a casita in the jungle, serenaded by howler monkeys and distant waves as I tapped out 2000 words a day.
I had a personal, yet universal story about the struggle to find a place where happiness and success could co-exist. At the time, my primary focus was to get my book proposal into reasonable enough order to sell it to an agent, who would then sell it to a publisher, who would in turn sell it to the world.
Some days, I spent more time worrying about being published than I did about being authentic. When I started to slip down that slope, a wise advisor told me, “Mary, it’s not your job to worry about publication. It’s your job to write from your heart.”
And I found my footing once again.
But during the last six months, those inspiring words had been forgotten. I was getting lots of advice from lots of people about the direction in which my book should go. I studied the best sellers lists, watched Ted Talks, and ventured down deep rabbit holes of research. Once again, publishing potential took precedence over promising prose. My blog entries had dried up and progress on my manuscript had become a mere trickle.
Back in my apartment, armed with my river rock, I crept into my hallway, then my living room, my kitchen, my guest room. I could find no evidence of what caused the racket in the night.
Satisfied there was no intruder but still puzzled, I returned to my bedroom and clicked on the light. In the middle of the bedroom floor was a small book that had seemingly hurled itself from a nearby bookshelf.
It was titled, “Write Your Heart Out.”
I cracked open the spine of the unread book. Inside was an inscription by the author on the occasion of my 49th birthday. I chuckled at the timeliness of this unlikely reminder, and then smiled when I remembered who had given me this book.
A close friend and fellow writer, Ken Akers was often my muse, my idea man, my editor, my best fan and most challenging critic. Since his death in 2011, there’s been a missing voice in my writing life. That night, it seemed like Ken’s spirit decided to prompt me in an especially memorable way.
It’s time to write from the heart.
For the time being, I’m going to stop listening to the editors, the ones both inside and outside of my head. I’m not going to weigh my words by their potential for publication, I’m going to weigh them by their potential for change.
Because you should write when the spirit moves you to.