Write What You Need
by Emma Reeves
For as long as I’ve called myself a writer, writer has been synonymous with writer of creative nonfiction. I thrive on impactful opening and closing sentences, perhaps playing with the structure in between those points. I’ve been open about my mental health and have honestly been pretty good at writing about what scares me. I could always present at least the illusion of process in my writing, whether or not I had actually processed through anything at all.
That’s the thing about writing about hard stuff, the writing is supposed to move you through it. For years, I had been writing to keep myself from sitting in my emotions. Experiencing emotion was never the point for me; working through the emotion was. That fragile strategy worked for me in undergrad, moving me from deadline to deadline.
After graduation, my structure and motivation were gone. In June, I moved to Portland, Oregon, to begin working in specialty coffee. Doing the thing where I graduated college, moved across the country, and started a career in my dream field was...a lot. So much was happening that it was overwhelming for me to process, to write through it. No one was giving me deadlines or assignments or things to write about, so I didn’t.
Writing was no longer my go-to, and I wasn’t upset about it. At the same time, I was building a new life in a new place without my usual form of creative expression. I felt the weight of my emotions, but without a way to process them. I needed something mindless to clear my head, so I started spending my free time sitting on my living room floor and playing guitar. Letting my instincts guide me, playing what felt good. I found myself floating melodies over the chords, then words started to happen.
These words weren’t moving me through what I was feeling; they were grounding me in the midst of it. There wasn’t a destination that I was writing towards. The songs I was writing specifically explored whatever emotion was most present for me in the moment. I watched an interview with Maggie Rogers where she talked about songwriting for mental health. Maggie talked about writing a song and then playing it over and over until she felt better, that singing allows you to be present to yourself in a way that speaking or reading doesn’t.
Then my songs started to make sense, and I began writing for connection. Connection to my emotions, connection to myself, connection to my identity as a writer that doesn’t change whether I’m writing blogs or choruses. I write a song and play the hell out of it for the next week, because that’s what I need. Then I’ll usually feel better, write another song, and the process repeats itself. There is such a freedom in letting myself experience emotion that way. I usually get to the end of a song without coming to a conclusion or realizing anything new. The realization comes through letting myself play it over and over again, allowing my emotions to take up space in my words and my lungs.
I’m still a writer. I’ve never stopped being a writer. I write what I need in the way I need it. There doesn’t have to be a moral to the story, and that’s ok. It’s the acknowledging of the story that matters, validating its presence and experience, not worrying about what type of a writer you are or what genre you fall into. Write what helps you best give space to your emotions and creative instincts. For me, that had always meant creative nonfiction. Now it means songs. It will likely mean something else in other stages of life, and that’s ok. As writers, we do a disservice to our voice when we insist on only writing in “our” genre or medium.
Write what you need in the way you need it.
No need for convention