One Writer’s Shifting Mindset (Or What If Making a Point Isn’t the Point?)

by Gigi Griffis

I used to think about writing the same way I thought about life:

It had to mean something. It had to teach us something. It had to have an end goal.

And so I wrote feverishly with that in mind.

I tried to convince people of things at first. And then I tried to make them laugh. And then I moved on to trying to help people do things like move abroad or break into a writing career. And I also tried to tell parts of my own story that might inspire someone or make them feel less alone.

All noble goals. None of them wrong, really.

But here’s the thing: I had pressured myself out of any writing that didn’t fit into this purpose-driven mindset. I couldn’t write poetry just because I liked the way the words tumbled over each other. I couldn’t play with stories for their own sakes. It’s what I’d done as a child, but somewhere in my teenage years, I decided that I always had to write with purpose. (That I always had to do everything with purpose, really.)

Which all circles back to being a child, of course.

I started writing when I was young. Maybe seven or eight. Writing my first book with my then-best friend Jessica is one of my earliest memories, actually. Another is of my whirling dervish little sister cutting that book in half. My first-recalled trauma.

When I wrote those childhood books, I did it simply because ideas were interesting. Stories had innate value to me. Sure, I still did some “helpful” writing back then. Of our first two books, one was about a girl who was bullied. But the other book was just a story for the sake of story. It was about a cat who had nine lives (I know, original). We must have been exploring the idea of death because we didn’t shy away from it in the book. To get to each new life, our kitty cat protagonist (Diamond) had to die and we always told the reader how.

It was as silly and unsophisticated as anything a set of eight-year-olds might write, but the point is that we wrote it for the sake of the sheer joy of creation, the delight of new ideas, the beauty of creativity. We wrote it because the idea of a cat being multi-colored because someone spilled paint on her and couldn’t ever get it out was a fun one. And because creating villains who poisoned cats because of jealousy was scary and sinister and somehow delightful.

But then childhood started to shift toward the teenage years and on toward adulthood. The story of creative loss is a long one, but the bottom line is that my upbringing was full of exaltations of being a “world-changer” and living a “purpose-driven life,” neither bad ideas on their own, but which, when beaten into the heads of impressionable kids, left some of us feeling like we’d already failed and some of us, perhaps even more sinisterly, feeling like we were invincible and our world-changing was inevitable. And if we didn’t feel like world-changers? If we couldn’t carry that torch every second of every day? Well, we weren’t very worthwhile, were we?

And so I believed that I was supposed to do something big. And, by extension, I shouldn’t waste my time on things just because they brought me joy. In fact, bringing myself joy was selfish when I could be making myself into a martyr instead.

And so my stories started to always have a point. They became some sort of quest for meaning. I kept most of my poetry and silliness to myself.

Until slowly, over the last year, things started to shift.

Perhaps it’s a result of the past year’s struggles. Of illness. Of friends dying. Of loneliness. Maybe it’s just that childhood love of story breaking through, shaking off the burden of purpose. Maybe it’s because I’ve started reading more again lately and not every story I love has an obvious point.

Wherever it comes from, I’ve started giving myself permission to tell stories for their own sake. Not just when they pose an important philosophical question or help us budget for a month in Paris.

I’m still writing those things, of course. And I still care about them and think they’re important.

But I also think telling stories that don’t yet have happy endings is important. Telling stories that surprise or delight us, with or without some end goal, is important. And telling stories like a child does, just for the joy of the telling, is important.

And, frankly, important isn’t even the point.

And so I’m undergoing a creative shift. Still working on my 100 Locals books (which have their own frequent surprises and delights). Still sharing budgets and how-tos from the road. But also contemplating ways to tell more stories just because they’re stories I want to tell.

Because stories like this are beautiful even if we don’t follow in the adventurer’s footsteps. And stories like this are interesting, even if all we ever do is listen. And knowing about the world is important, even if we aren’t sure what to do with the information.

Sometimes you tell a story to make a point or help people in a specific way. Sometimes you tell the story just because it’s a good story, worth telling, worth reading.

So if you notice a slight shift here on the blog, this is why. You’ll still see budget posts and interviews. But perhaps you’ll also see more goat soap operas and day-to-day joys. And perhaps—just perhaps‐I’ll eventually start dabbling in fiction again. Or poetry, my long-time secret love.

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Andrew August 17, 2015 - 3:39 am

Isn’t it a bit frightening-interesting how much we pick up and retain from our childhood. Those probably well meaning and mostly good idea type lessons that get blown out of proportion in our head. They become the demons which haunt our adulthood. Especially as some of them are learned by example and not necessarily told to us.
Somehow learning how to be a child from adult parents isn’t so ideal?

As I mentioned on Twitter, I have fallen into this kind of trap more over the past year. Trying to relax and do fun things generates guilt that I should be working and work generates exhaustion where I should relax. It is an unpleasant circle. I’m working on breaking that cycle.

The breaks seem to come ironically when I focus my time more. Instead of trying to be a relaxed work or a working relaxer, if I spend a morning or day concentrated on a task and actually accomplish something, then I feel more justified to relax. Or sometimes if I decide to play video games in the morning, then I can buckle down to work in the afternoon. That later doesn’t work as well, but it has occasionally.

I hope you can start doing stories for yourself and doing not just the writing that helps you pay your bills, but also the writing that helps you feel better too.

Ann August 17, 2015 - 6:44 am

As much as I enjoy your “purposeful writing,” I would love to read your creative writing as well. Good for you for embracing that shift!

Ali August 17, 2015 - 8:29 am

You’re a beautiful writer, and I enjoy your wacky stories about goats as much as your deeper posts about life’s struggles. Bring it on.

Libby Walkup August 17, 2015 - 8:51 am

Yes! Write write write. Fill pages. I have recently come back to poetry. I had forgotten that it doesn’t have to be about anything because even in creative writing classes people go “what’s the point?” and I want to wring necks. I have been feeling something similar to you I think. Or maybe not. I had begun to feel that my voice wasn’t valid. My story wasn’t worth being told. And that has led me down a terribly depressing path but I hope I can write my way out of it. And also Jen sincero’s You are a Badass, which I picked up last night and nearly stayed up all night reading. It talks a lot about where those voices in our heads come from. And you’re totally right, all those things that were either told to us or that we witnessed as children affect how we engage the world. Even in the first few chapters I realize I have so much work to do. Much love.

Brandy August 17, 2015 - 11:29 am

To enter heaven, it’s said, you must become like a little child. I don’t think this is just something that’s true about the next life – it’s true about our life here on earth. I think if we could get back to being like little children, we’d get a lot closer to the happiness we want. I think I’ve spent most of my adult years unlearning the negative lessons adults passed on to me with good intention.

Lessons from little children:
Love with abandon
Forgive without question
See the magic in the ordinary
Find the beauty in the weeds
Make a game out of everything
Sing without worry
Draw and paint boldly
Spend time day dreaming

Great post, Gigi :)


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