Writing stuff down changes everything. I mean, it can’t help you dunk a basketball, but that’s on you for being too short. (I can’t dunk either – we should be friends!)
If you want to take control of your life, or meet your goals, or be grateful for what you have – you need to write stuff down. If you want to be a better spouse or parent or friend, you need to write stuff down.
I was reminded of this by a single photo from my time in Nepal – the one you see posted up top.
The woman in the photo is the mother of a little girl named Amita. (You can see Amita’s face in the photo held by Rinjin, my guide.) She lost Amita, her 7 year old daughter, two years earlier, when she was taken by a child trafficker.
I had first found Amita a year before that photo was taken. I discovered her in a little shack in the capital of Kathmandu, huddled together with six other trafficked kids. Before I could rescue her, she was kidnapped away again.
It took me a few more months of searching to find her, but I did, in a village a few hours west of Kathmandu. (It was a miracle that I found her. I’m not even joking – an actual miracle.)
We got her to a safe place and took care of her, and after a while she started to trust me.
But we needed to find her mom. She was from a village in the far northwest corner of Nepal, deep in the Himalaya, with no roads leading in or out. We weren’t sure exactly where. So I went looking for her. It was a long journey.
But here’s the point of me telling you all this:
In the photo, I’m exhausted and dehydrated and sick. We also had some extraordinarily bad luck in being discovered by the Maoists. The man in the camouflage jacket behind me is a Maoist. They would come for us that night. (That was a terrible night.)
And still, in the moment this photo was snapped, with the Maoist standing over me and everything else distracting me, all I could think about was writing down every word this mother said. That notebook and what I wrote in it would be the only evidence of how a little girl had been trafficked. And I knew Amita would want – would need – every detail about her family.
When I wrote Little Princes, I pulled 90 percent straight from my blog – the one that predated this one. The other 10 percent of the book was pulled from sources like the notebook you see in the photo. That notebook allowed me to recall the little things, like how I felt in the moment. It helped me recall how impossible it all felt at the time.
That original blog, which became Little Princes, only existed because I had a community of readers encouraging me to keep writing. (You know who you are.) The community around this blog has changed my life, which helped change the lives of kids like Amita, because it encouraged me to not give up.
This is Amita more recently, when we visited the kids in Nepal. This is Liz and Amita, years later. (Amita wants to be president of Nepal. I want that too.)
I tell you all that to tell you this: This photo reminded me that Writing Stuff Down can change everything in your life. I’m going to share five ways that it changed mine (none of which has anything to do with writing a book).
1. Writing Combats Anxiety.
My mind is like a greenhouse for Anxiety. Anxiety grows there, in the dark, alongside eggplants the size of rowboats and pumpkins that would sink a frigate. Writing stuff down cuts off the oxygen to my Anxiety. It turns my crazy thoughts into shallow realities instead of the hothouse nightmares that swallow me whole.
2. Writing is an Immune System for my Psyche.
Our Memory betrays us. You ever break up with some jerk boyfriend and after a few months your Memory is all like “You know, he wasn’t so bad – remember that trip to Napa? Why did you even break up? Quick – text him!” Well, your Writing is there wagging a finger going “Nuh-uh, sister” because you were smart enough to write down in the moment how that guy treated you and how you felt worthless around him. Writing protects your heart.
3. Writing Reminds Us How Far We Have Come.
Your Mind will tell you that you’re not keeping up with everyone else. It will tell you that you are incapable of success. But your Writing shouts that down. It’s all like “Hold up, Bummer McDownerville. Remember when you didn’t think you’d even get this job, and now you’re rockin’ it? And how you never thought you would do XYZ but now you’re KILLING it doing XYZ?” And guess what, people: Your Writing is right. Your Compare-Yourself-to-Everyone Mind is wrong.
4. Writing Allows You to Speak the Unedited Truth.
There is only one person to whom you can be your absolute, uncensored self: You. (And God. So that’s two people, I guess – Liz keeps a prayer journal, after all). Writing It Down (to yourself or as a prayer) gives you the Perfect Audience: One that will love you and never judge you. That kind of freedom is hard to describe until you experience it.
5. Writing Makes You Grateful for What You Have.
When I am down, or in a dark place because of some failure, that’s what I write about, because that’s the Uncensored Truth. But I also try to write down what I have. I am always amazed at the impact of seeing those things written: That you’re in a relationship that matters. Or that you have children. Or that you have friends who would do anything for you. Or a job that feeds you. Or a faith that sustains you.
I was remembering all that when I looked at this photo. That notebook in the photo, that held some horrible stories. But in the end that notebook was a story of triumph. Because with all the horrible things I was writing down – stories of children being taken and the pain of the parents – that notebook was ultimately the beginning of a story that would lead to the reconnection of 500 lost children by Next Generation Nepal.
Now: Writing might sound daunting. But you know how you pretend to like museums but they’re really mostly totally boring? Writing is the best museum in the history of the world. It’s the museum of YOU. All of you is in there, perfectly preserved, who you were and how you felt, throughout history. That’s a museum worth exploring.
And because writing can go anywhere we want, I’m going to finish up this blog the way we always do, with our traditional top five list – inspired by museums…
Top Five Things I Pretend to Like:
99% of the time I want to literally shout the word “GROAN!” when I’m walking through art galleries. But everyone around me who’s busy pretending to like museums would give me the stink eye, like I’d just outed them because they all know they’re a bunch of liars. Don’t get me wrong, first few minutes in an art gallery are great stuff, probably because I just ducked out of a hail storm. Next two hours? GROAN!
Come on with the jazz already. I mean, background music, great. But going to a jazz concert? Watching it? What are we doing here, people? I don’t get it.
New Years Eve Parties.
So done with these. Six hours of watching a clock and everyone around you is drinking and shouting at your face about why every high school kid should be forced to watch Breakfast Club and when finally it’s midnight you get to drive home in the freezing weather and pray that you reach your house before the Drunk People of America get in their seven-seat Tahoes and start whirly-birding all over the black ice. Worst. Party. Ever!
Documentaries about Stuff Like Font. (Font!)
This movie, Helvetica? No, man. Just no. Everyone was like You gotta watch it! and I tried but it was about font. Helvetica Font! Which sounds like the new Potions professor at Hogwarts.
Is this required now, loving raw oysters? I’ve spent a decade graduating to actually being able to choke them down, now I gotta pretend like I’m so happy we’re ordering a couple dozen for the table? Get outta here with these things.
Friends, I know my limitations as a writer. You know them too. We don’t need to be great writers. We just need to get it down. Come on, we’ll do it together. It’s not like our calendar is all jammed up with dunking basketballs, amiright?