Experiences and Contentment

At the moment of posting this, I have been living in another country for over three months. It has been a whirlwind of emotions and experiences. From making foreign friends, eating food I would never eat at home, and doing lots of touristy things whilst also making time for the study and work that I’m here for too, I think it’s fair to say I’ve never been as busy in my whole life as I have been during these past three months.

Sometimes, it is exhausting. I would consider myself an introvert, and going out every single day, even if that’s just to grab lunch, is tiring for someone like me. Even when I was at university, I would spend some days just sat inside, studying, writing, watching films or YouTube. I’ve allowed myself some of those days over these past few months, but in comparison to what I’m used to, it feels like I’ve been constantly on the go, which means I pass out pretty quickly when I go to bed. Given it used to take me an age to go to sleep because my mind was often running, this has actually been quite beneficial.

But I’ve also been having the most amazing time, and I’m going to talk about why this time has been so amazing for a little bit. Anyone who knows me knows that I didn’t have a fabulous time at university, and whilst that’s a topic for another day perhaps, what was really concerning about that is, when you go to university, everyone tells you that it is going to be the most amazing time of your life. Supposedly, because you’re young and carefree, you’re going to meet people who will change your life, you’ll have experiences that will push you as a person, you’ll find yourself and what you want for the future. This picture perfect image of university that we’re sold wasn’t the one that I received, and this meant I was worried the rest of my life was going to be wretched. If the supposed peak of my existence was actually awful, what did that mean for the days after university?

A very important thing to note is that, if you didn’t have the best time at university like me, that doesn’t mean things are only going to get worse. There’s a lot of talk about your early twenties being the peak of your life and everything afterwards is just downhill. That’s an absolute, total fallacy. Life does not stop when your early twenties are over. In fact, that’s when a lot of life and freedom truly begins, and that’s an important thing to remember, especially if you’re still at university or you’ve just left. You might be thinking whatever comes after will be horrendous when, in reality, as you begin to leave your early twenties, that’s when you have true freedom to build the life you want to build.

I did have that fear, though, that, after university had finished, was everything just destined to be a disappointment? That meant that when I was planning to travel this year, I kept my expectations low because they had been so thrashed before.

Now that I’m here and I’ve been experiencing all these things that are new and exciting and invigorating and inspiring, I’ve realised that this was the experience I was meant to have during university. This excitement, all these new things I’m witnessing, all this freedom I feel, that’s what life is about. And whilst it took getting through a wretched university experience to get here, what that has really taught me is that your very early twenties are not always going to be the best time and that, sometimes, it takes a little longer to get these experiences you were promised in your youth. And that’s okay. We are often sold a very specific image of what life is meant to be, but when you actually start living, you realise life can be a lot of different things, and getting older and realising that is so very valuable. Age brings a kind of wisdom that youth can’t compare to. I understand that fear of getting older, but that fear is there because we are taught to fear aging, and if you embrace the idea of leaving your youth behind, you get to be enveloped with a kind of comfort and reassurance that teenagerhood will never grant you.

But you might be asking, what does this have to do with writing? This is a blog that documents where I am with my projects whilst also debating topics that surround authorship and literature. If I’m just talking about how life’s been for the past three months as I travel, where does the writing come into it? Well, writing comes into it because life experiences help you write.

Without life experiences, you’ll have nothing to write about. Sometimes, perhaps a lot of the time, you might end up writing about things you have no experience in. The world and its history will sometimes be inaccessible to you. Even with decades of research, it might be hard to truly understand what life during the 1600s was like if that’s the topic your novel surrounds. Whilst that research is beneficial, what can also help is living. A lot of truth comes through emotions and experiences, and if you have a wealth of those, then you will write better.

I’m still in my considerably early twenties, so whilst I have some life experience and I’m going through some incredible ones at this very moment, I also know the experiences I have are arguably nothing compared to someone in their fifties. I think my writing is pretty great now, but I’m eager to see what it becomes with another ten, fifteen, twenty years of living behind me. With experience and knowledge, you become a better, well-rounded writer, and it can ground your novels, making them more realistic, and that’s something you can only achieve through living and experiencing the world.

Does that mean a teenager can’t write? Absolutely not. There are some very talented, very hard-working young people who write stellar books. There are, however, also books written by young people that are evidently written by those who have less experience in life too. It is that experience that brings knowledge of emotion, the human condition, the feel of places and settings, and with that knowledge, your writing becomes more rounded, and that’s only ever a good thing.

Truth be told, I haven’t actually been writing much at all, which is so unlike me, I can barely even process it. I am so very used to using every ounce of my spare time writing in a notebook or on my laptop, and to not have written much at all apart from these blog posts is throwing me.

Partially, this is because I don’t actually have all that much free time as I want to make the most of getting experiences. The pandemic (still ongoing despite what some might think) kept us inside for so long, finally getting out is something I want to take advantage of, and whilst it is tiring, running around and seeing the world is so sweet after not doing much at all for the past few years. But even when I do get time where I have no plans, I’m catching up on shows, eating, calling my family, and I often don’t have the right mindset to work. I have trained my muse to work for me, but when you’re tired and just need a moment to rest, your muse will resist, and sometimes that’s just the way it works. Am I a little fearful that getting out of the habit of writing is going to make it hard to wrangle my muse when I return home? A little. But I’ve been there before, controlling my muse and making it work for me, so I know I can get there again if I do truly fall out of that habit.

Other than the fact it feels bizarre not to constantly be writing, I do feel incredibly content, and it has made me re-evaluate my future. I like to plan ahead by a hundred steps if not more, and before I even left for this trip, I thought I knew what I would do when I returned home. Right now, I’m making other plans, plans that almost revolve around no concrete plan at all, and that’s bizarre, but I also think it’s going to be beneficial.

Being a writer means, until you can start supporting yourself fully with writing, you end up doing lots of other things to sustain yourself as you write in your spare time. You might start a career in something else, you might do odd jobs, you might just find any way to get by as you write until that writing becomes what you do all the time. Sometimes, that means life isn’t all that fulfilling for a while because it’s often true that working towards your dreams isn’t always the most rewarding of experiences until those dreams are reached. That is, unfortunately, the way things go, but if you can find ways to fulfil and sustain you until you attain those dreams, then that’s how you find contentment in life, I think.

I believe I’ve found a genuine way to sustain myself, but it’s daunting because it’s not the typical way. What this means, if I go about the way I think I will go about, is that I won’t be getting a job that turns into a career, so my near future won’t involve getting a house or a mortgage or ‘settling’, which a lot of people would see as being typical or the right way to do things. Like I said earlier, we’re sold a very specific vision of what life should be with lots of rules to follow. As according to a lot of people, there is a set way of doing things so you go through life, get some experiences, and retire shortly before you pass away into the next realm. I’m in my early twenties, and once you get past the age of 18, all your friends start branching off into different ways of living, and that can be daunting to witness. Some have kids, some get married, some travel, some are perpetual students, some get their dream job at 21, others never seem to ‘settle’. What I think this teaches us is that there isn’t actually a set way of life that we’re told there is.

That doesn’t mean, when you do veer from the supposed path, it isn’t frightening. To a lot of people, this plan I intend to enact may seem as not settling, and going about things a different way to what you are supposedly meant to offers difficulties you might not know how to handle immediately. However, what this trip has taught me is how to overcome a lot of adversities. I’ve had to plan this whole thing pretty much by myself, and that will prepare me for certain things in life that a perhaps ‘typical’ way of living might not. That’s why, like I’ve stated above, experience is kind of everything. Different ways of living offer different experiences and the way I’m choosing to gain experiences will help my writing but it will also allow me to experience the world. It’s daunting, but one of the reasons getting older brings this wisdom is because you will go through moments where you are forced to overcome things you’ve never dealt with before. That’s important for life in general, but I also think this will be really important and beneficial for my writing too, even if I’m not writing all that much at this particular moment.

In terms of writing, experience is invaluable, and I have found a way of attaining this experience whilst living in a way that brings me joy. I know there’s a lot of talk about the tortured artist making the most amazing art, but I think happy and healthy artists make beautiful art too, and if I can find a way to live whilst also being joyful, then that’s what I’m going to do. I’ll be honest, I don’t particularly want typical. I want to enjoy life and travel and write. A career in anything other than writing doesn’t interest me, and whilst that means verging from the path, as everyone verges from their own path really if we think about it, it means I’ll be living in a way that hopefully brings me more joy than stress. You shouldn’t judge your life compared to someone else’s, what matters most is finding contentment wherever you can, and if that is the typical lifestyle, wonderful, but if it isn’t, that’s okay too, you just have to find a way to sustain whatever does make you content. For me, contentment arises when I’m gaining experiences that I know will help improve my writing, so whilst it may be atypical, I certainly know it’s going to make me more joyful.

I hope you out there are finding ways to make yourself content, whether that means staying on the path or verging from it or deciding there’s no path at all, whatever helps you sustain a life of contentment, I hope you’re finding it. And if you’ve found it already, that’s amazing, and I hope it sustains you forever.

Robyn x

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