What calls us to write? Feeling moved by an activity, an idea, a sentence, a word, a sunset, a dessert, and feeling compelled to explore it more deeply by writing about it?
Writing is like baking or eating a French dessert, a rich, consuming experience, a bit treacherous, full of uncertainty. A friend had made her favorite dessert– canelés –and, “to make things even better,” she was going to share it with me. Having never heard of canelés, I googled the word and what appeared was a wonderful blog with and a post about canelés, complete with a lovely picture of the small golden cakes. The writer wrote about the history of the dessert and her own memories of eating them in Paris and then her hassles with getting the temperature right in her oven when she baked them herself.
The sensual, lively post honored the special dessert and the writer’s experience in making it. In addition, it was a gift to me, the reader, second only to the delicious gift of canelés from my friend.
In the book The Uncommon Reader, the titular reader is the Queen of England who by happenstance begins to read voraciously late in life and to her surprise and delight, finds that reading changes her life.
Chasing her corgis near Windsor Castle, she comes upon a mobile library, and being the polite queen, she borrows a book. One book leads to another, and eventually she wondrously finds that she would rather read than do anything else.
From her reading, she starts to understand and take note of how others feel and live. She records observations in her notebook, something that raises concerns and suspicions among her staff. One of her advisors, an elderly man prone to not bathing, thought that writing might be preferable to reading because “in his experience writing seldom got done. It was a cul-de-sac.” He thought that she would then neither read nor write, a state he and the Queen’s people thought best fit the Queen.
People tending the Queen attributed her loss of attention to things ceremonial to a mental decline, so unusual it was for a Queen to read, to have interests, particularly interests that few others shared, and strangest of all, to write.
While reading took her to a wonderful new place in her life, only if she were to write a book would she feel her life complete. She gathered a determined courage in order to announce to others that her next step would be to write something significant.
The charming, fanciful book is a critique of a somewhat shallow group of leaders, but it is also a salute to the power of reading and writing.
The Queen in this story had never envisioned herself as a serious reader, no more than she imagined that she would become a writer. The portrait of this Queen shows someone bravely going down an uncertain road.
To write takes a willingness to do whatever is necessary in order to write.
Writing has its own special rewards and makes its own special demands. It needs tending, care, and a complex love.
It may be hard to call yourself a writer, or even to think of yourself as a writer when you struggle to make time for it or fit it into small crevices of your day. But sooner or later, you will honor what you do in those few, quiet moments each day and say, maybe just to yourself, “I’m a writer.” You are many things, but you most definitely are a writer and that identity was hard-won.
P.S. In honor of the Queen’s corgis, here’s a funny little film shared with me by a friend celebrating her own birthday.
Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCCYour International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach firstname.lastname@example.org