Sunday, December 19, 2010

when all else fails

Today I took a brief survey of our home library and counted the number of books about writing I have collected--and read, for the most part. There are books of inspiration, books about the writing life, “how to” manuals on language and craft, and memoirs by successful authors…not to mention reference books--dictionaries, thesauruses, formatting and publishing guides. When I reached the number fifty I stopped counting. Surrounded as I am by such a wealth of wisdom, experience, and success, I should be inspired and encouraged about my writing…and I am!

Last week I said I would share some of the memorable words that have served to enlighten and motivate me as I begin my own exploration of the writer’s life. Here, then, are a few passages that, for some reason, seem to have stayed with me most memorably:

From Diane Lefer in Words Overflown by Stars, writing about traditional story structure:

“The movement of the story progresses from rising action to climax to the falling off of the denouement. H’mmm, say the feminine literary critics. As poet Eloise Klein Healy pointed out, that sounds suspiciously like the male sexual response. Which is NOT, she points out, the only way to satisfy a reader…If a story that rises to a climax and then falls off is “male”, what sort of story would illustrate the female textual/sexual response? Could it be a story that peaks again and again, in which waves of excitement and satisfaction are diffused throughout the text instead of focusing on a single moment near the end? Is it a story in which individual themes and incidents connect to create a sense of unity instead of resulting in a clear-cut choice or change?”

This seems to be the way my stories prefer to unfold…wandering rather than marching along, enjoying the scenery rather than pressing the reader on to his final destination, allowing the reader to breathe and to reflect and to dream before he is prompted to turn the page.

From Brenda Ueland in If You Want to Write:

“Inspiration comes very slowly and quietly…Our idea that we must always be energetic and active is all wrong…(We) should be idle, limp, and alone for much of the time. As lazy as men fishing on a levee, and quietly looking and thinking, not willing all the time. This quiet looking and thinking is the imagination; it is letting in ideas.”

This, I find, is why meditation and stillness are such fine writing tools…gently whittling and polishing the twig rather than hacking and sawing away at the woods.

From Lynda Barry in Do You Wish You Could Write?--to paraphrase her words:

“There were two questions that held part of me hostage:
Is this good?
Does this suck?
What was the answer? A feeling of deadness slowly crept over me. The important thing is
to be able to stand not knowing long enough to let something alive take shape. Without the two questions so much is possible. For all the kids who quit drawing…come back!”

This is how the inner critic stifles the muse—with self-doubt, uncertainty, deprecation, and fear of failure. By measuring the beginner’s honest efforts against the master’s success. It’s enough to leave the creative child, the blossoming writer in all of us, dead in his tracks.

From Michael Neff in Immersed in the Art of Fiction:

“For an aspiring writer, periods of disappointment are necessary steps leading to productive that should be more thing. While we’re discussing what it takes to get published, let’s not forget a little thing called PASSION. Keep in mind that tens of thousands of writer are working right now to get a first novel published. Only a few hundred of them have any chance whatsoever. They are the best of the best, and the core emotion that separates them from the mob is passion.”

Tough but true.

And, finally, from Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way:

“Once you accept the idea that it is natural to create, you can begin to accept a second idea—
that the creator will hand you whatever you need for the project…Learn to accept the possibility that the universe is helping you with what you are doing…Try to remember that God is the Great Artist. Artists like other artists. Expect the universe to support your dream. It will.”

So…when all else fails--there is always faith.

What dream do you trust the universe to support?
“Advice? I would say that there is one basic idea that should be kept in mind in all the changes we make in life, whether of career or anything else. We should decide not in view of better pay, higher rank, “getting ahead”, but in view of becoming more real, entering more authentically into direct contact with life, living more as a free and mature human person, able to give myself more to others, able to understand myself and the world better.”
--Thomas Merton--
In my next post I’ll focus on some of the other writing I have been toying with. Have a “wonder-filled” Christmas and a peaceful New Year!

1 comment:

  1. This is a great collection of advice and insight into the writing life. Thanks for putting it all together.