unsolicited advice

Don’t write alone. I was my most prolific as a child, when I read everything I could find and wrote down everything I thought. In gentle competition with my twin sibling, we were often surrounded with pens and pencils and the dot matrix printer paper that came in a miles-long continuous sheet. We learned the trick of tearing off a piece of paper just right, along the perforations, and peeling off the hole-punched strips that went down each of the long sides, one for you and one for me. 

Don’t write alone. I was a teenage scrawler and defended the secrecy of my writing with my life. I would love to have back the poems I burned, the diaries I binned, tore, shredded with my hands. I would love to have back the words I held in my mind like a mouthful of water and never spat out.  If I could, I would read my lost teenage diaries with tenderness, treat with care the words of the young woman whose feelings were too scalding to bear, and promise to her, my young self, that I’d handle the pages like 3000-year-old papyrus—that precious, that delicate. I would tell her that I’d like to keep them for the rest of my life.

Don’t write alone. I made a friend who was a poet, and she and I would talk about poetry. We wrote together a few times, me and her and some friends, sitting together in her attic study. She would invite me to come and read with her around town. I would agonise over writing something, put it off and put it off, bring it to rehearsal barely finished. On the mic, in the company of the other poets, I would hear my voice reverberate in my own ears and notice a slack line, a hollow beat, a forced rhyme. I would take my poem home, adjust, tighten, lay it on the bowstring like an arrow. At the reading, I’d loose it, watch it fly, hear it strike.

Don’t write alone. My brain stopped working for a while and I couldn’t write. I had a lot of time and no concentration, a lot of thoughts and no way to make them into words. I had no attention for reading. I would lie on my side, holding my notebook open to a blank page in front of my heart, and stare at it like I stared at my bedroom walls. My mind felt heavy behind my eyes, cold and inert.

Don’t write alone. I would put something on paper and immediately snap shut on the possibility of sharing it. Write, destroy, write, destroy, write, destroy.

Don’t write alone. I would put something on paper and then promise myself I would never look at it again. Stupid, insignificant. Write, abandon, write, abandon.

Don’t write alone. I would put something on paper and, rereading it, decide to consign it to the dustbin of shameful juvenilia. Write, forget.

Don’t write alone. I made a friend who was a poet, and he and I would talk about poetry. Sometimes he would read his work to me when it was new, as new as it could be, fresh out of his head and still wet. We would try and test the words, one by one. Like a locksmith picking a difficult lock, we would jiggle and rattle each word, change their order, try the line again until the tiny inner machinery of the poem would tumble into place and click. It took me a couple of years to entrust him with my work, but I did, eventually. 

Don’t write alone. A lightning bolt still goes through me when I show someone unfinished work. I still hate everything I write, a little bit, even the good things. The work of writing still feels too hard for me to do—I lose faith every time that things will come together. But I know, now, that there are people I can take into these struggles with me. They can remind me that these feelings are just feelings, that writing isn’t impossible, that my brain is working just fine. The last time I wrote a poem for public consumption, I spent an hour on Skype with a patient friend and read the first draft to her in its naked state, accompanied by a jolt of fear. Frowned, growled, fidgeted with the words, read it again, freaked out. Read it aloud again. Freaked out a bit more. Read it again.


Nobody here is the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog who, alone, surveys the world and the future with mastery as mist unfurls below him. Who among us can claim mastery over the future at the moment? The world is a strange and harsh place, and we need each other to survive in it.

Write to fight for your mind, write to fight for your sanity. Write your joy and your struggles. Write to remember. Write to reach for the most playfully, creatively alive moments of your existence, in the spontaneity of your childhood, the intensity of your adolescence, the liberation of your adulthood. Write to reach for each other. Don’t write alone. 

A prompt for you:

Call a friend. Write together in each other’s company for 10 minutes. Take five minutes each to read your writing to each other. What feelings came up? What was good about the time writing together? What was difficult? Post what you wrote.

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