“There is ecstasy in paying attention,” says Anne Lamott. She recommends it because you can achieve a Wordsworthian openness to the world with God at the helm. If you go with it, in writing, the writing’s fun. Anne suggests that “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.” Later, you can edit it, pull it together in a way that makes sense, mold it into something someone else can read and appreciate, but first, have fun, let the words that come from the God within take over, the words tumble out, unbidden and unedited. Like I’m doing now—is this first draft shitty, or is it saying what I need to say? Oh, I meandered a bit like Virginia Woolf, but that’s what I do, and I’m paying attention, in an ecstasy that’s very akin to what I feel when I’m on a good walk.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
I think now and again about how Virginia Woolf said a woman who wants to write needs an income of her own and her own space in which to practice her craft. Her long essay A Room of One’s Own is a phenomenal read for where it takes us in women’s suffering, even in the 21st century. All writers need to take care of the writer’s soul with journaling, walking, yoga, meditation, anything that helps your mind wander, free itself of junk, and settle into telling a story. You need space, a place where when you sit down and open your laptop, your mind quiets and focuses on writing. You also need a time when you can be alone, not so much for social media and correspondence, but for the real writing to take place, and this might mean blocking out a Saturday afternoon when you’d rather be at a matinee. Once I started making money from my writing, I got myself a studio with a desk, a nice comfortable chair, sunny walls, and lots of mementos from my life to remind me who I am. I need it for quiet, but I also need to remember who I am.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Writing groups are good for telling you where you wandered off the path, when you are unclear, and which characters are weak. But grammar and punctuation should be second-nature. If they’re not, you’re in trouble. Nothing bothers an editor more than someone who seems to have no command of the language. It’s a red flag that the writer is not a real writer but a wannabe writer. And I see that all the time—writing that could be really, really good, because it comes from the soul, and then the writer falls down with the grammar and punctuation and sentence structure. The kernel of truth is lost in the mess of it. We writer-educated people pay homage to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style by keeping it close by, even though, if we read a lot, we instinctually know how to do it.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Sunday, June 2, 2013
I read Caleb’s Crossing in a weekend. There’s something to be said for a cold Winter weekend when no deadlines loom and there’s nothing on the calendar, to sit and read, even all night. That’s how I read Geraldine Brooks’ book. That long span of reading only made the good book even better. I’ve always admired the way Brooks imagines a life, a tale, a time in history, and weaves a story around it. This story takes place on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1660s, when the island was a place where people went to live life the way they wanted to leave it. I liked the story of the Native American who made it into Harvard, the descriptions of the way of life in Cambridge and the island, the interaction between the indigenous people and the European settlers and all the philosophical thought on that subject, as well as the Biblical quotes about how to live life best. I loved the quotes about God and his plan: “Yet all knowledge comes from God, who creates and governs all things. You will find many excellent divine moral truths in the works we will study together in this place—in Plato, in Plutarch and in Seneca . . . we study no art for its own sake but to help us restore our connection with the divine mind.” I’ve always believed that. The main character was Bethia, raised to be a mother and wife, but thriving on stolen knowledge, whose life takes unexpected turns. In the end, she writes “I am not a hero. Life has not required it of me. But neither will I go to my grave a coward, silent about what I did, and what it cost. So, let these last pages be my death song—even if at the end it is no paean, but as it must be: a dissonant and tragical lament.”