Permission granted

I wrote this on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, at the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, on the first day of my Saturday fall writing workshop. We’d had a six-week summer hiatus, and people came back to write and share, as giddy as little kids to see their school chums again. 

I gave this writing prompt: Take the piece of cardstock in front of you and a marking pen (any color you like; feel free to decorate!), and write these words on it: Permission granted. Sit with that for a minute or so, then pick up your pen or go to the computer and write. What do you need permission to do? What have you been waiting for so you can proceed with something that you want to do?

This is what I wrote:

Everything is permitted.

Everything is permitted.

Everything is permitted.

Everything is permitted in the imagination.

Everything is permitted on the page.

Yet we pause, the pen hesitates over the paper, as we do when standing on the edge of the pool, nervous about diving in. We long for the soothing water but fear that immediate shock of submersion, of the abrupt change in temperature. We wonder if we’ll survive, if this time we’ll be able to come up for air.

Well, yes, we will. I sit here as a writer, like all of you, and I tell you with every bit of faith and years of practice, yes, we will come up for air. We will find things in the depths that surprise and scare us, that slap the breath from us like big ocean waves. But we float. We float, people, and our heads find the water’s surface, our faces turn toward the sky, our mouths open, and we breathe—long inhales, gulps of gratitude. Then we swim, long, languid strokes that get us to a place some distance from where we started.

We breathe, and we write—or draw or paint or compose music, or perhaps all of the above. We dive down again, on purpose, looking for pearls we didn’t know were inside us. We bring them to the surface, hold them in our hands; we are surprised by their luster, their simple beauty. We are astonished that we found them.

We sometimes need permission to dive deeper, need encouragement in the form of others writing with us, listening to us, reminding us of what they hear that is strong, what stays with them. It is easier to go in the water with a friend, always wise to swim with a buddy.

So welcome back, my buddies, to this body of water in which we swim, dive, surface, breathe. Not that you need it—you never have, never will—but you have my permission to get wild and wonky on the page, to weep or wail, to toss away inhibitions and dance. You have permission to let your pens skate between the lines or let your fingers fly over the keyboard, making your own music. You have permission to sing the words as you make them up, to hold up the pearls you have retrieved from the deepest parts of yourselves, to admire them or throw them away.

Everything is permitted on the page.

About janishaag

Writer, writing coach, editor
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3 Responses to Permission granted

  1. Connie Raub says:

    Great stuff from the Gud wrtr! I’m running with that freedom, but I DID put down the scissors! Thanks for the reminder that we can all stretch ourselves, but encouragement from all sources is monumental.


  2. hilary says:

    You are a godsend! Thank you!

  3. Ants says:

    Janis Ian said If you want to be a good writer, write what you know. But if you want to be a great writer, write what you don’t want others to know about you.”

    I struggle with that. I’m not sure it’s right. Maybe it is. I don’t know. But in reading this essay, Jan, I’ve reflected on my own fears as a writer. It’s not the fear of jumping in, or even what I’ll discover when I’m there. That excites me. It’s the fear of what others who might read it will think. Boy, there’s a lesson about life in there for sure. But therein lies the source of any writer’s blocks I may have.

    For the same reason we don’t point out the unsightly warts we may have, but rather cover them up or have the removed, it isn’t our natural desire to be forthcoming with the dark stuff, the weak stuff. The outcome: Judgement! Aarrrgh! NooOoOooooo! 😉

    Thanks, Jan.

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