Write to Save Yourself

In Anne Michael’s extraordinary novel Fugitive Pieces, one of the main characters, scientist and humanist Anthos Roussos, tells his adopted son Jacob Beer, whose family was murdered by Nazis during the Second World War: “Write to save yourself, and you’ll write because you’ve been saved.”

Heeding his father’s advice, Jacob begins a career as a poet, penning several poetry collections, as well as a book completing his father’s work.

While the Fugitive Pieces is brimming with brilliant lines, this one about writing struck me most deeply when I read it during the summer while in Toronto. And after I returned to Salt Spring in late August and dived back into my own writing, the line seemed to act as a talisman of sorts over the next month.

All I wanted to do was sit in the quiet of my room, walk in the forest, and write. After some days of journaling, I felt drawn to pull out the poems from my collection The Blue Halo, which I’d left in disarray before my departure, given preparations for my trip and the editing of a nonfiction manuscript. I’d had no time even to print out the edited poems before I left, though I did write out a list on a scrap of green paper.

With this make-shift list as my guide, I found each of the poems and worked on them until they felt complete. Much to my amazement, the manuscript came together as a whole within a short period of time and I emailed it to a publisher the other week. The next day the publisher emailed back with acceptance of the book for publishing next fall.

Working on the poems, I realized, was a way to save myself, for the process offered me deep nourishment. I felt as though I’d been replenished like a dry creek filling up with rain after months of drought. And it struck me once again that when I listen to my deep urgings, it always brings a reward of one kind or another.

What writing do you need to do to save yourself? Are you willing to take the first step in the process?