Writing As Breathing

Let us not be the awkward acquaintance friends who say “long time no see” after an extended period of not seeing each other. In those scenarios we aren’t really ever happy that the period of not seeing has come to an end but we grin and endure the encounter anyway.

This week I had the privilege, thanks to the legendary Jacob Sam-La Rose, of being one of a few poets in residence at St Paul’s Cathedral. This is not the post where I delve into the beauty of this experience, that entry comes later. During one of our many discussions I gurgled forth a statement that has had me thinking, ‘writing is a form of breathing.’

The room did a chorus of ‘mmmm’ and I felt like I’d asked a question of myself without meaning to. “Writing is a form of breathing aye Jeremiah, what do you mean?”

I guess I can’t start this section without first quoting the great Jordin Sparks, ‘tell me how I’m supposed to breathe with no air.’

If writing is breathing then I’m coming to realise that the air is made up of many different gasses. I believe that the oxygen of writing is reading which really worries me because I don’t read anywhere near as much as I’d like. From what I’m learning and the habits I see of writers I revere, reading is essential. Your breathing will become very shallow eventually if you don’t read.

Outside of that I think other things that constitute the air for our writing is life and all the different things that constitute that for each of us. I know people, community, society, love and music are big contributors to my air and so they’re often reflected in my exhalations which are mostly poetry.

As I delve into this entry I realise there’s probably a deep science that could be applied to this metaphor but that’s long for man right now.

I hope if you’re reading this you’re very clear about the following because if not, I don’t know for you at all. Breathing is fundamental to life, it’s a bit of a madness if you aren’t doing it. In the same way, for a writer to inhale and exhale, to partake in the cycle of listening and giving is essential for their existence as an artist. (I say artist because I didn’t want to say writer twice so close together, I think writers are artists, it’s not a deep statement I’d go out on a limb for, so yeah.)

If you stop inhaling you’ll die, and to keep inhaling without exhaling is an impossibility. It’s really easy for me to do this fake breathing, to inhale trash air and exhale shallow breaths that aren’t really functioning to the betterment of my being as a writer.

It’s so important for me to experience life, to live and listen and not be a boxed up hermit cotched in some dark gutter. I need to inhale. In the same breath, (see what I did there), I also need to give myself space to exhale. I cannot breathe in and breathe in without giving myself space to write.

We don’t think about how we are breathing until something goes wrong. As a writer however I am still figuring out how to have breathing down as second nature. Of course sprints for the bus will be necessary and breathing after that is a bit mad but simple walk down the road can feel like stress sometimes.

I don’t have the answers for this but after this residency I’ve learnt the importance of giving yourself the space to exhale all that is being taken in, the space to write. When I say space here I want to conflate it with time and let the two function as synonyms for each other because it’s my blog post and it’s an idea I’d like to leave you with to stew on.

I do not have a bow to tie this post up with because I am still learning, still understanding what it means to write and so there are no answers here just explorations.

This post was first published on a previous blog of mine on 29th July 2017

Jeremiah Brown