Virginia Woolf spent ten years working on her first novel. After discarding several other titles, she ultimately called it The Voyage Out: a story of leaving home, of voyaging out into the world, of discovering oneself.
Today I am contemplating The Voyage In: the story of the end of a journey, returning home, and thinking about the ways this encounter with the world has taught me about myself.
My first reaction when I think about this journey is wonder.
Wonder at the incredible time in which we live when a long metal tube can fling me through the air and deposit me in a place 4,500 miles away–a place whose history and literary tradition I have loved since I was a girl. To fall asleep in the Big Skies above Denver and wake up in London is itself a wonder. To leave the dry sage-filled air of Montana to the green, rose-filled gardens of England is to step from one world into another. How easy it is for us to do.
And as a traveler, I am always so much more open to wonder than I am at home. The wonder of the ancient churches, the thatched cottages, the pots of tea and scones, motorways, pubs,stately homes, walled gardens…
Traveling wakes us up to the the beauty of the world–we are willing to see everything with fresh eyes. I think I would like to hold on to that joyful looking as I take in my familiar streets, my old house, even these coffee cups that greet me every morning.
The fact that I was able to take this trip at all fills me with wonder. How did I go from my little desk in my unremarkable home to a podium at the British Library? What giant forces of the universe had to align to get me to that moment?
How did I get so lucky?
My only answer is that this great good fortune was a serendipitous intersection of hard work and good luck. It’s like those inspirational posters say: “Hard works puts you where luck can find you.”
I am very aware that hard work is not enough to succeed as a writer. As Margaret Atwood says, “writing is a gambler’s profession. There is no guarantee of anything. You can put in a lot of time, a lot of effort, invest a great deal of emotional energy, and nothing may come of it.” She goes on to say that unless one is willing to invest all that time and energy without guarantee, don’t try to write.
But I disagree with Atwood. Writing is doubtlessly a gambler’s profession. And the chances of worldly success slim. But how much more people get from living a creative life than worldly gain. Approaching the world as a writer invites us to see more closely, to live more intensely. Living the writing life asks to to live in wonder all the time.
And to me, that itself is a gift.
And living a creative life–as A.B.C. Merriman-Labor, the subject of my book knew so well–gives a sense of purpose to one’s life.
To go on tour, to meet remarkable people, to tell the world about one’s book, to let praise wash over you, all of that is truly wonder full, and I am so very grateful to have had this experience. The kindness and encouragement will carrying me through future hours of unruly sentences and difficult paragraphs.
But I also know that the writer’s place is not in a green room or in front of a podium. No, her place is at her desk in the early hours of the morning with a dog sleeping at her feet.
Being a writer is not about receiving money or accolades, but about giving. Giving words and worlds, observations and ideas. It is about offering something to make this world a little better.
Writing is a gift I have been given.
And it is a gift I give to you.
Thank you so much for subscribing to my 21 Days in the UK Book Tour Blog! If it is OK with you, I’ll send you updates from time-to-time.
The book that made this tour possible–An African in Imperial London: The Indomitable Life of A.B.C. Merriman-Labor–is currently available in the UK and will be available in the US as a book and ebook on September 1st.