Last weekend, I attended the Australian Writers’ Centre in Sydney for an intensive weekend course in Creative Writing. The idea was to consolidate my knowledge, acquired largely by bumbling around, and build on my skills. Indeed, I learnt a lot from the lovely and talented tutor, Pamela Freeman, who generously shared the wisdom of her experience and offered everyone valuable feedback.
An unexpected bonus, however, was the opportunity to meet eleven other interesting people from very different walks of life, with a shared love of written expression. Some of the conversations I had with the other students in the lunch break inspired me to do some soul-searching about why I feel the need to write, where my efforts have taken me, and what I’d be willing to change to pursue my creative dreams.
Like many people who love to read, I had always dreamed of writing a novel. For the longest time, however, that dream to write was a tiny little germ of an idea, buried so deep I had trouble locating it. A vague drive to be more creative.
For a while, I searched for fulfilment by pursuing other creative outlets. I’ve always loved food, and still love poring over cookbooks and making gorgeous, colourful creations—not so much baked goods; my palate leans to the savoury side. The culinary creations were supplemented, during my creative gardening phase, by home-grown organic produce. The veggie garden has shrunk down now, to a few pots of straggly herbs.
After that, came my brief flirtation with knitting, which culminated in the mushroom Alpaca lace scarf that I still wear with ridiculous pride, stroking the silken fibres and admiring the pretty pattern. I wouldn’t know where to find the knitting needles these days, and would probably have to google how to cast on, or whatever it’s called. It turns out I’m not that crafty after all.
Which brings me to the moment, a little over five years ago, when my need to be creative coincided with a burning idea that wouldn’t go away, and a character who kept making me wonder what if? I read a couple of craft books about writing a novel and leapt right in, finishing the first draft of my first novel in fits and starts over several years.
When I first started writing the novel, if I’m being honest, I was having a difficult time at work. I’d just had my first major complication, and a major complication in my line of work is devastating. Tears, recrimination, thoughts of quitting and waiting to be sued.
When I look back now, I think a part of me hoped that writing might one day become a second career, one that would allow me to retreat from the hazards of my day job into a safe world of my own imagination. I would never have admitted it, but a part of me thought I could make a living as an author and walk away from the stresses of my career in medicine for ever.
If anything, my drive to write has become stronger over the years. It gives voice to my hopes and fears, and most importantly gives me enormous satisfaction. I approach each project with a mixture of fear and excitement, and still feel joy in the act of creating something meaningful from words on a page. I throw everything into it and it feels like something that will always be a part of my life now.
But, so does medicine. Rather than drawing me away from my day job, the act of engaging with writing, pursuing my creative passions and interacting with the writing community has made me appreciate my career more. I no longer resent going to work. I enjoy getting to know my patients, albeit briefly, and using my skills and experience to help them through what can be a very stressful time. It feels as though finding joy and fulfilment in creativity has made me happier overall, and in turn more able to appreciate the positives in every aspect of my life.
If someone offered me a great publishing deal tomorrow, I’d happily take leave from the hospital to give writing my full attention, but at this stage, I can’t imagine giving it up completely. Having a stable source of income takes a lot of pressure off the creative process.
If you haven’t read it, check out Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’ for an inspiring look at creativity. Liz makes an excellent case for not giving up your day job for creative pursuits, arguing that it’s often better to make the time to do both. I have to agree with this advice.
Many of my colleagues in medicine are highly accomplished authors, musicians and artists. I can see that the benefits of pursuing a creative passion go far beyond the tangible works of art produced and the satisfaction of creating them. The act of allowing ourselves to embrace creativity keeps us going in our at times mundane lives, helps us to appreciate what we have and encourages us to take pleasure in the quiet beauty of everyday things.