I recently read something where an accomplished author was asked, ‘When did you know you wanted to be a writer?’
She responded, ‘I was always a writer’. She didn’t mean she had been writing from birth, she meant that even all those years when she wasn’t writing, she was writing. She was living the experiences that would later inform and inspire her creative work.
I started writing at 36 while pregnant with my first child and began a daily writing practice at 37 when she was 8 months’ old and home with me every day. Before this I had written so sporadically it’s barely worth mentioning (and definitely was not one of those people who wrote stories as a child).
But I always knew I would make writing my main activity one day. When I spoke to other writers, I could see they found it odd that I thought of myself as a writer. But I was, I am, I always will be.
Here’s why: being a writer takes more than putting words on a page. It’s a way of being. It means seeing, really seeing the world (the world could be your family and the street you live on). It means feeling things and understanding, or trying to understand, what others feel. It means imagining. It means accessing parts of your own mind and heart that often lie dormant in daily life.
I was doing all these things, all my life, before I wrote anything. If you are a writer, you probably do too. In future posts, I will talk about getting words on the page, regularly, consistently and with ease. But before putting words on the page, it’s worth taking time to sort out your mind. If you’re not writing as regularly as you want to, it could be because your mind is sabotaging you.
We don’t live in a society that makes it easy for us to be creative. Time-consuming and stressful jobs. Financial insecurity. Lack of support for people with children. Lack of support for the elderly. Lack of support for mental health. Lots of choice and distractions. Technology, everywhere, all the time.
Before I started writing every day, I always had a reason to be spending time on something else. Work. Socialising. My relationship. Work. Keeping fit. Watching Netflix. Work. Cleaning the flat. Scrolling through social media feeds. Admin. Napping. Work.
When I had my daughter I realised that all the spare time I used to have (and the great majority of us in the developed world have it) would be gone and I’d be left as empty as my boobs after a feeding session.
I could not stop thinking about what Carl Jung said.
‘The greatest burden a child must bear is the un-lived life of its parents’. My mother had pushed me down a life path she hadn’t been able to live herself (one, but by no means the only, reason I didn’t write until my thirties) and I could not bear to think I would do the same to my daughter. How could I ever tell her to live her dreams if she didn’t see my living mine?
You will have your own reasons for blocking and sabotaging your writing practice. They will be real and they will be legitimate. Don’t beat yourself up about it. It is never too late to change. But to change, there are some things that need to happen in your mind. You need to believe:
Your writing is important. Really believe it. As important, if not more important, than all the other things you spend time doing. Instilling this belief can take time. I see it like this: the more I create, the more I am who I really am, and that inspires and supports everyone around me.
I’m not religious but I am spiritual and believe the Creatrix made us all equal and made us all creative. Believing everyone is equal is not consistent with always putting others before you and putting your own creative practice last.
You have enough time. You do. I promise. Ten minutes of completely focussed writing every day is enormous, beneficial and worthy. But if you look honestly at how you spend every minute of your day, you might be able to find a lot more time than that.
You have ideas, good ideas. We all have ideas all the time, many of them brilliant. But we are so busy doing other things that we don’t notice them. Or we don’t note them down and can’t remember them afterwards. Or every time we have an idea, we throw it away like a weed instead of nurturing it like a flower, because we’ve gotten into the habit of judging and censoring ourselves.
Writing is fun and you deserve to have fun. There are one of two things happening here. Either you see writing as difficult, time-consuming or something that needs ‘the right conditions’ to happen (that was me). In this case, you need to see it as fun that you can have under any conditions (and I will show you how in future posts).
Or you do believe writing is fun, but you also believe that you only deserve to have fun when you’ve finished everything else and finished making sure everyone else is having fun.
Imagine the Universe putting all the effort into making a world abundant with opportunities for us to be creative (us includes you). A bit like a parent going to loads of effort to organise wonderful activities for their child.
You rejecting your own fun is like a child looking at all the amazing activities on offer to them and saying, ‘no, I don’t want to’. Think about the energy that sends out into the Universe and the energy you’ll get back in return.
There are no perfect conditions. For anything. It’s as simple as that and anyone who’s experienced UK weather knows this! But you work anyway, you have family anyway (whatever that means for you), you help people anyway, you cook anyway, you go on holiday anyway, you live anyway…so you need to write anyway.
‘Perfect conditions’ might also mean thinking you need a certain level of skill, perfect spelling and grammar, or a certain kind of life experience to write. You don’t, certainly not at the beginning. As you develop, there will be courses, groups, editors…but that is not something to worry about when you are writing first drafts. Your unique voice and experience is what matters.
The process is more important, and enjoyable, than the result. I couldn’t write for years and years because I believed what I wrote had to be brilliant straight away (another result of my upbringing). I thought there was no point just writing for writing’s sake, I needed a certain result before I could get started and of course that meant I never got started.
Your behaviour may not be as extreme as this, but you may find yourself not writing because you don’t know where it’s going to go, you’re worrying about potential readers/editors/publishers/what you mum will think.
You get better at writing by writing and it is through the process of writing that results will come. This can be difficult for goal-oriented people to internalise, but you must. You have very little control over what other people will think of your work. So write for you, and enjoy the person you are becoming thanks to your writing. Be curious about what your writing is becoming thanks to you.
In life, you don’t get what you want, you get who you are. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. If you want to be a great writer, you have to write. If you want to be a happy writer, you have to enjoy writing. If you want to be a tortured artist…come speak to me separately.
This is the first in a series of blog posts called ‘The Creative Life’ aimed at helping writers discover, nurture and maintain their creative practice regularly and in the long-term.
Nejra runs weekly generative creative writing workshops on Zoom, aimed at helping writers to start and maintain a daily writing practice. All the details are on the Eventbrite page for each workshop, links to which can be found on the ‘Workshops’ page on her website nejracehic.com
Nejra Ćehić is a poet and writer born to Bosnian and Chinese Malaysian parents, growing up in Kuala Lumpur, Sarajevo and Cardiff, Wales. Her poems have been published in Ink Sweat & Tears, ASP Literary Journal and are forthcoming in SMOKE magazine. She also has poems and short stories published in the most recent Roath Writers and Cardiff Writers’ Circle anthologies (the latter published by Parthian) and in the bilingual anthology (Be)longing. She performs regularly at virtual poetry open mics in the UK and worldwide.
Nejra began writing daily in January 2022, after writing her first poem in 2015 and several poems in 2020 and 2021. In the past year she has written more than 100 poems and started the first draft of a novel. She was previously a TV and radio presenter for a global news company and is currently a yoga teacher alongside her writing.
Nejra is working on her first full-length poetry collection.
You can find her on Twitter @nejracehic or on her website nejracehic.com.