anghara (anghara) wrote,

Write about it all

Trust me, I have weird ideas at the best of times, but this one really kind of came sideways out of the ether at four o'clock this morning when my wonky shoulder was giving me grief and I woke up because I couldn't get comfortable in any position that didn't involve contortionism, and, well, too much information and all that - suffice it to say I finally got up and (what else do you do at 4 AM?) crawled off to the nearest computer and there had an idea.

The seven deadly sins, right? Here they are, with a bit of explanation on the side, for those of us who need a bit of boning up on theology (from

Pride is excessive belief in one's own abilities, that interferes with the individual's recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity.

Envy is the desire for others' traits, status, abilities, or situation.

Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.

Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.

Anger is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as Wrath.

Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness.

Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.

Why was I thinking about the seven deadly sins (and I am not even Catholic!) in the dead of night? Damfino, and I'm pretty sure that I wasn't enacting some kind of generic guilt deeply buried in my subconscious and brought out by pain and insomnia. But I did extrapolate - and I started thinking about how these apply to my own sphere, the writerly sphere, the seven deadly writer sins as it were. Pride is certainly up there, leading to outright arrogance in some scriberly types, the habit of walking about with one's nose in the air and dismissing the great unwashed and unpublished as unworthy of one's notice.

Envy - ah, GOd, need I say more? If you've ever written a WORD in your life and then read someone who has written it better than you could hope to do in this lifetime or the next - ALL of us have felt a twinge of that envy nipping at our heart. GLuttony might be tricky, but it could well be smooshed with Lust and Greed into a single Greater Sin called, for want of a better word, Avarice and a Sense of Entitlement - you get, and you want more more more - once you get published it isn't enough that you have been but you want another contract, and more to follow, and it's an addiction... (I write about female protagonists, a lot, so I guess I might call mine a heroine addiction...) It's NICE to be wanted, contracted, published, read, paid for your words - it's an affirmation of your existence, of your dream, of the work you put into your writing - it's a joy that is heady and once tasted leaves behind an everlasting fear of what happens if it ever stops flowing your way. You used to write for the love of it - and that's still there, always will be, but now you're also writing for the market, with an eye on the publicity, the readership, the marketplace, you're putting yourself out there and reaching out to more readers, you're anticipating a continuity of contracts and publishers and enough money out of it to eke out an existence until the NEXT check - which means you're expecting the next check - and then it all gets tangled into a whole new net of emotional responses, which is possibly where Anger comes in, in the shape of frustration and fear, the waiting, the dealing with editorial changes which you may not agree with but which you are obliged to either perform or come up with a damn good reason not to, the simmering anxiety that if you DON'T deal with them in the prescribed and expected manner you might get the reputation of being a prina donna about your work and therefore a scarlet letter on your forehead with editors which might lead to all sorts of other things... and then Sloth comes in at certain times, the avoidance of any work at all, because if you don't DO anything you can't do anything wrong...

SOunds awfully depressing for four in the morning, and probably was. Blame the shoulder.

But the same website yielded

The Cardinal Virtues, attributed originally to classical Greece and subsequently acquired by the Christians, are prudence, temperance, courage, justice. They also added the so-called Theological Virtues - the well known quartet of faith, hope, charity and love.

So where do writers stand on those?

Prudence and Temperance would kind of coalesce together into what you might call Humility - the knowing that you are as good as you ARE, not as you think you are, and that dammit, you are good enough. Knowing, without false pride or arrogance, where your strengths lie, where you need shoring up, choosing (as a friend of mine put it) which hills you want to die on when you cross editorial pens with your publishers and where you can give on a suggestion and - hey - sometimes even accept that suggestions are made by people just as professional and just as much in love with language (and your story) as you yourself could ever be. It's the feelign of knowing your place in the universe, and knowing that if you get the chance to shine like a star for a moment that doesn't mean you have to blow up like a supernova or collapse into a black hole of neediness... apropos that latter, as a digression, if you didn't know this insecurity is a great big monster under the bed for nearly every writer I know, and all of us, some more often than others, wind up needing someone who *doesn't need to say so* telling us that we're doing good work. Obscurity is awful dark once you've had a chance at being a star for an instant, and we all fear the dark.

Courage - I don't need to even go there. Writers need, and have, more courage than most armies. If they didn't they would never survive the barrage of rejections that come before any kind of success, survive, what's more, and conquer. Writers have the courage to say the things that need to be said and damn the torpedoes. Writers have the courage to delve into the human mind and the human condition and produce works that sear other people's souls because they are so honest, because of their own incandescent truth - and no, I don't necessarily mean just the facts, ma'am. There are deeper truths than just the facts, those truths where a mirror is held up to the monsters most of us carry hidden inside ourselves, and the frisson of recognition as we recognise - in some stranger's words - the things that make us afraid or angry or bitter or hopeless. And give us strength, and weapons, to battle those fiends.

Justice - ah, we've all heard the cry of "It's not fair", since early childhoods. Writers take it on, this not-fair life, and seek the justice hidden in the folds of it. It might be portrayed as being blind, but writers see the details in things, and writers are the eyes and ears of justice.

As for those last four - Faith is what keeps you going when everything seems to be crashing in flames around you, and you are the only one to believe in your work and your worth, and you have only that faith to sustain you before the Guardian Angel who was on his lunch break comes back to fold his wings around you. Hope, the last thing left in Pandora's box, is what makes you live another day - because another dawn might see all those dreams come alive, just another day, another day, another day. One day at a time, if necessary. But if hope is alive, so are you, always. Charity, because there are always those who are coming up behind you, staggering on the same hard road, and it is good to lend a hand when you can, to remember what it was like when you were in their shoes, to give a kind word or to buy someone's book, or to mitigate the sting of a bad review, or to help, if you are able, in a more concrete (even financial) way, to let a student step up to a workshop or a course of study which otherwise they could not have dreamed of doing. It doesn't mean giving out alms like a prince to a beggar (which harks back to the original Arrogance sin) but it does mean cultivating a sense of acceptance and belonging and of being, when that is required, the kind of older colleague who becomes known for wisdom and grace. Give freely of your gathered treasures, for they have value only when shared. Teach, if you can; just listen sometimes, if you can't.

Love. Know how to give it. Know how to accept it. Don't require it.

So, then - the fruits of a night wakefulness and pain -

Go quietly in the madness and the noise of the world, for you are the one holding the keys to understanding it.

Watch carefully, and listen, for by paying attention you learn to understand.


Dream, for you are dreaming the dreams of others too, the ones who might some day pick up your words and see something a little more clearly than before.

Love, for by loving you exist - and for all its dirt and squalor and ugliness this is still a beautiful world - and sometimes the writer will be the only one to bother saying that, and in times of trouble those words may mean all the difference to someone whose hope is running low.

Accept that there are times when you will write the kind of thing that changes lives, and sometimes the kind of thing that makes people say that life is too short and toss your immortal words aside. The glory of your art is that there are always more potential readers, and even the ones who pass you by will find their treasure in someone else's books while leaving yours to be found by the people to whom they WILL mean something. Accept that sometimes you write entertainment that means nothing at all; also accept that some people might find things even in that which you never put there. That is the way of the word - it will find its own meaning and interpretation.

Think, because withuot thinking dreaming is mere delusion.

Try and remember, in the moments that it feels as though you are falling off a cliff, that sometimes this is the only way that whatever Deity you believe rules your life can think of to teach you to fly. Remember, when you think you are plummeting to certain doom, to spread your wings. Learn to understand the language of the wind.
Never think that life is in league with the Devil - in the words of a wise man (whom I would name if I could remember who he was) that nothing bad ever really happens to a writer - it's all material.


Drink a lot of coffee (or the poison of your choice, for that matter, although I am partial to coffee myself). You need a vice. Make it one that will not, at least in the short term, harm you. In the long term, cross those bridges when you get to them. If asked three questions to allow you to cross any bridge at all, remember to be creative (European or African swallow?... - for non-Monty-Python afficionados, ignore that last remark)

Get a cat, for a cat will keep you believing both that you are loved (there is nothing like a cat purring on your lap) and that you are no more than a halfway competent servant with responsibilities of keeping your resident little furry god fed and warm and in possession of a clean litterbox.

Read, and if ever you are in a position to choose between a book and a loaf of designer bread, get the book (and buy the plain loaf, if you HAVE to eat).

Remember you are a human being, and keep in touch with humanity. Living by yourself in a cave, even if the cave is a sybaritic penthouse, is over-rated for most people. You will find that company of friends is good. You don't have to be a party animal or go clubbing until the wee small hours, unless you're in your early twenties - most of us lose the stamina for that kind of thing as the years pile up, not to mention that wearing teh right kind of clothes becomes more and more embarrassing) - but make sure you talk to someone every once in a while. If all else fails take your laptop and write in a cafe - at least you'll have to order your latte out loud.

Never stop learning. Never even start thinking that you have learned all that there is - about any subject at all. Least of all about people. And remember that every single thing we "know" today was once considered a wild and kooky theory - if you were living in Galileo's times you were not living on a planet that revolved around a sun and had a place in a galaxy. Remember that there is always more that we do NOT know, or don't know yet, than there is of what we THINK we know. And everything we think we know may be overturned tomorrow, by something entirely unlooked for, unexpected, and, once discovered, so blindingly obvious that you'll be left wondering why you didn't see it in that light before.

Even if you don't believe in life everlasting, or life after death, or reincarnation, remember to believe in life. ESPECIALLY if you believe that this span of days on the planet is all that we have. Because if that is true, then today is all you have to make a difference.


Be delighted by the little things, the everyday things, the things that happen around you. Let a tree dressed in the spring green of young buds tickle your sense of wonder. Watch the poetry of the slow dance of falling leaves in the fall. Notice the weed growing in the crack of the pavement, and the brave yellow flower it has lifted up to the sun. GO out in a snowstorm and let the white silence surround you. Close your eyes and let the warmth of sunshine lie lightly on your eyelids. Go to a museum and wonder who was the first human to create fire. Or bake a cake and wonder who was the first human to even have the weird idea of separating egg white from egg yolk and then whipping it up into meringue. Eat chocolate. Go to the zoo. Go online and price a fantasy trip to a place you've always wanted to see. Talk to angels. Cry at a sad movie.

Stretch yourself. You were not born to fit into a small box. There's a whole world waiting out there.

Look at the colours of your life. You will quickly realise that few of us live our lives in pure black-and-white - but even if you do see a lot of black and bleak remember that it is that which makes the light and the joy stand out. You would not know if you were happy if happiness was all you ever had. Treasure your sadnesses because they will make you stronger.

Hug somebody. Make a small child laugh. Take an old person back into a good memory.

And then write. About all of it.
Tags: cogitations, writing, writing life

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