“There is only one thing to do. Go into yourself. Examine your reason for writing. Discover whether it is rooted in the depths of your heart, and find out whether you would rather die than be forbidden to write. Above all, ask yourself in the stillest hour of the night, have I no choice but to write? Dig deep within for the truest answer, and if this answer is a strong and simple yes, then build your life upon this necessity. Your life henceforth, down to its most ordinary and insignificant moment, must prove and reveal this truth.”
– Maria Rainer Rilke, Paris, February 17, 1903, “Letters to a Young Poet’
Of course I would resonate with this. Go into yourself. Go into the story. So much of the writing life is about immersion. Things other, things personal. Things bigger, things smaller. Things calamitous, things mundane. No matter the proximity, scope, or impact, always there, infused with meaning. We just have to be willing to travel there, give ourselves over to it, and trust that what we learn will inspire our creativity.
As always, we can look at advice such as this in two ways: The Writer’s Life and the Protagonist’s Life.
Per the former, if what we discover by going into our Self is we cannot NOT write, something of our deepest and most authentic nature requires it, this reshapes the subject of success. We can never know if we will achieve financial gain from creative efforts. Even once established with a professional writing career, the only guarantee is that it doesn’t owe us a living. However if we commit to writing because we have come to understand it is essential to who we are, on an existential basis – which is ultimately the most important consideration – we succeed. Every time we write a script, novel, memoir, short story, poem, or song, every day we shape words into scenes, pages, paragraphs, and sentences, we succeed in aligning ourselves with the universe because THIS is what we do, THIS is what we must do.
We can also take Rilke’s words and apply them to the Protagonists of our stories. After all, their journey is most often about engaging in a series of events which compel them to explore what is “rooted in the depths of [their] heart” and in so doing revealing that which has been there all along: Their Bliss, their Rapture, their Core Essence, Authentic Nature, True Self. At their foundation, stories are about the central character’s self-identity and as such two questions require an answer in the playing out of the narrative: Who are you? What will you become? Stripping away the trappings of their ordinary life enables the Protagonist to go into him/her/itself and see clearly what is most essential to their nature. If they embrace that sense of identity and act upon it, they succeed. If not, they fail. Regardless of the outcome, these are stories worth exploring.
So go into yourself… go into the story… these are related journeys for a writer, both in terms of our own identity and that of our story’s characters.
Take a few moments today to reflect on your reasons for writing. If you cannot NOT write, acknowledge that with a “hearty yes”.
Then go into your story… and see what your characters have to reveal to you in today’s writing session.