Recently, I attended a workshop about writing an artist statement. That’s a short paragraph about why an artist does what she does and what inspires her (or him). The instructor said to write our own artist statement, starting with why we write. The question seemed simple enough, and the answer was easy. I write because I enjoy it. I write to get all these stories banging around in my head out on paper. That’s it. My inspiration comes from no particular place. It comes from everywhere.
It took me only a minute or two to write that out. Then I looked around. Everyone was hard at work fashioning their own statements. Words were deleted (I watched the person beside me working on a laptop), other words were scratched out and rewritten, and frowns formed on faces when the right words didn’t come quickly. I looked at my description again, wondering what I was leaving out. Why were they struggling when I thought it was easy?
The instructor asked for people to read aloud what they’d come up with. The first guy said blank sheets of paper called out to him, begging to be filled with ideas and dreams. Another person said writing transported her to a world of her own creation where anything was possible. Another talked about feeling like a god when creating a world, people, and control over what they were doing. The instructor praised their statements and asked for more examples.
I stared at my modest words. There was no way I was going to share my simplistic view of why I write. Oh, I could have written that I write because the joy it brings bubbles up out of my well of creativity, watering my soul with fulfillment and giving my life purpose. My inspiration comes from all the experiences that have shaped and formed me into the person I am now and opens my eyes to what I may become. But that’s all a bunch of window dressing around the unpretentious fact that I write because I enjoy it so much.
The exercise reminded me of the very first writing workshop I ever took way back in the early 2000s. It was a one-day affair, with about twelve of us participating. One lady there was, to me, a little strange. When introducing ourselves, she said she was the Fifth Generation in her family and her job was Chronicler. I had no idea what that meant and was afraid to ask. She implied she’d lived other lives, but didn’t go into it much more than that.
At the end of the workshop, we were gathered in a circle and were summarizing what we’d learned and what direction we planned to go. As usual, I gave a simple answer: I’d keep writing and learning. When it was the strange lady’s turn to speak, she leaned forward in her chair, looked directly at me, and said, “I’ve been sent here to give you a message.”
I sat back and thought, HUH??????
She stared at me and said, “This is the message. The jump is so frightening between where I am and where I want to be. Because of all that I may become, I will close my eyes and leap.” She sat back in her chair and finished by saying, “That’s the message I was sent here to give to you.”
The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I got goosebumps. The instructor and other students were as dumbstruck as I was. I stammered out something and asked her to write the message down so I wouldn’t forget it. She did. I still have that piece of paper she wrote on. I never saw or heard from that lady again.
I’ve kept that saying close to me during my writing career. When I was afraid to even tell people I wanted to be a writer, I thought about that message from who-knows-where. It took a lot of courage and stepping outside my comfort zone to publish a book, but I closed my eyes and took the leap. I haven’t regretted it. My books don’t hold flowery prose. I’ll leave that to those who are inspired by blank sheets of paper. They’re much better at it than I am.
I hope whoever sent that message is pleased with what I’ve done with my writing. If there are any other messages, I hope they come in a less eerie way.