It has been said that tough things, painful things, are grist for the writing mill. Recently, friend of mine threw that one out there second-hand—the roll of her eyes and snort of derision reaching through the email screen. She offered it up to a mutual writing buddy, in case they might draw any more comfort from it than it had ever given her.
This is the well-meaning yet never-welcome gem of comfort aimed at those writers in the trenches of personal crises. It’s true, of course, but something about it resonates not well, with the friend that tossed it up, nor with me.
I spent a few days lolling it over in my mind, inspecting its underbelly, searching for the leak in the hoses. And of course, it wasn’t until I wrote about it and came at it sideways that things came clear. Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, asked me to tackle “Why do I write?” The journal entry that emerged shed some light on the grist and the mill, and their proper relation.
It’s raw, so don’t judge:
I write for…
I write for me. I write for my family, for my husband, for our marriage. I write for my children. I write for hopes and dreams bigger than I ever thought I was capable of. I write because it needs to come out, the ideas, and the words, and the love. Even the love can flow through the words. Even when they’re not eloquent, or especially poignant. Even when they are dull and boring, they can be filled with love.
I write for the world, to be a sounding box for those who cannot write. The creative process is almost like prayer, and those who can need to act for those who can’t. How a life can be lived without creation and interpretation, I will never know, although I did it for many years. Much like prayer and the many ways we ascend to God.
But here I am, able to process this life through not only the mill of my faith, but also the mill of my writing, to move aside the barriers and see inside, to be privy to, and attentive to, those tiny glimpses into the deeper levels. And I must write, so that those moments don’t die, don’t go unnoticed. So their stories—the beautiful and the ugly—get told, and the world is changed. For words, however weak and inadequate, can give those gifts wings.
The mill does not demand grist, but the grist indeed aches for a mill,