This week, I received a wonderful email from a friend asking me how I started as a writer and how I sustain my writing life. What works for you? she asked. Or doesn’t? What keeps you going? Is there an inner force guiding you, leading you, or pushing you?
These and other questions, stopped me in my tracks. How could I possibly respond? Then I came across an article about William Robinson, one of my favourite Australian artists.
Asked about the terrible loss of two daughters eighteen months apart, he said: ‘What I learnt was that you transfer these things into the consolations that nature gives you.’ And when a fellow artist was going through a crisis, Robinson told him: ‘You’ve got to stick to your painting no matter what comes.’
Do you need to be obsessed to be an artist or writer? ‘Yes,’ says Robinson, ‘I think obsession covers it really.’
Some people might call it obsession. I call it salvation.
I write to escape past trauma. I write to escape the demands of a challenging and often cruel world. I write to channel the voices in my head that might otherwise send me mad. Writing is the truest way I know to find that deep spiritual place inside that we search for in meditation. Writing is meditation. Writing feeds my soul. Writing heals my soul.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the term, ‘nervous breakdown’ and wondering exactly what it means. For my mother it meant a complete inability to cope with day-to-day living following a traumatic divorce; it meant enforced hospitalisation and electro-shock treatment. Recently, for a friend, it meant crippling depression that also stopped her coping with everyday life. Once long ago when I suffered post-natal depression it meant deep-sleep therapy, not in the infamous Chelmsford, but in a private hospital in Melbourne with an avant-garde psychiatrist influenced by the notorious Dr Harry Bailey. (I’ll write about that one day!)
For a variety of reasons, I’ve recently been bleating to all and sundry about feeling close to a ‘nervous breakdown’, whatever that label means. And each day I’ve been saved, like Robinson when he lost his daughters, by turning to the consolation that nature has given me. Writing. My escape. My salvation.
I wish I’d been someone like Robinson who discovered this consolation early in life but it was not until I was in my forties that Julia Cameron’s book, ‘The Artist’s Way’, opened this door for me. And even then, it took me a long time to stop sabotaging myself and accept that I had a right to find my ‘consolation’ where I did.
My friend has witnessed my journey writing ‘The Lost Child’ and she is now part of my journey with my second novel. She wonders what keeps me going. Is there an inner force guiding me, leading me, pushing me on?
Perhaps there is. Like most people, I muddle through life trying to balance the demands of family and friends, work, social and fun activities. I try to give back to society in different ways. Now and then I don’t cope very well, I have my little ‘nervous breakdowns’ from which I always seem to learn difficult lessons and grow a little wiser.
And when I write, I try very hard to listen not think. I rein in those voices in my head—call them what you will—intuition, an inner force, my muse, the Higher Self—and I listen to what they’re telling me. I try to follow where they’re guiding me. I try to trust them one word at a time, one sentence, paragraph, chapter, story.
That to me is the miracle of writing, and the great mystery: As I create and listen, I am led. That’s the inner force that keeps me going. Some people would call it God.
William Robinson’s exhibition, The Artist’s Garden, House and Memories, is currently showing at Australian Galleries Melbourne until July 3, and opens at Australian Galleries Sydney on July 19. William Robinson: Genesis, opens at Brisbane’s Old Government House on June 28.