06 October 2011
“On my night table rests a small worn half sheet of paper that reveals a passion that has been my companion for more days than I wish to count. The words, which are added occasionally, say it all: Writing is exploration, adventure, healing, problem solving, freedom, cleansing, spontaneity, revealing, spirituality, mystery, hard, processing, emotional, communication, creativity, challenging, nourishment, and wonderment.”(Excerpted from the Introduction to my nonfiction manuscript that inspired this blog)
This passion for the written word is not only about the process of covering blank pages with ideas and thoughts; it involves the reading life with as much or more intensity. I noticed the other day that I’ve got a sizable cache of books about the writing life that are interwoven in piles and on shelves. My favorite is a reprint that I bought in the late 1980s: Brenda Euland’s If You Want to Write (1938). This precious companion, which sits on my night stand and smiles at me each bedtime, is a tiny paperback that churns humility, wisdom, and much inspiration. Euland was a feisty feminist, and wrote with the heart of a gentle coach and teacher.
A vast array of theories circulate in classrooms, conversations, debates and forums about characteristics of well-rounded writers, and what gives them the stuff of deliverance. In reality the best advice offered is: write every day and create for the sheer love of it. But significant influence comes from the literary works of the storytellers themselves. The narrative is the key whether the work is fiction or nonfiction. Some authors even pen articles, books, and essays that share their insights about the creative process as well as describe the joy and suffering in the act of writing.
Often I return to the usual suspects when I need to distract myself from the agony and ecstasy of this consuming passion. Here are suggestions: The Creative Process: Reflections on the Invention in the Arts and Sciences by Brewster Ghiselin (1952); The Writing Life (1989) by Annie Dillard; The Writing Life (2003) by Ellen Gilchrist; and Writing Down the Bones (2005) by Natalie Goldberg.
Other material ripe in experience, integrity, insight, modesty, and wisdom are: The American Language (1921) by H.L. Mencken; The Writer on Her Work (1980) edited by Janet Sternburg; The Writing Life, National Book Award Authors (1995); The Writing Life: The Hopwood Lectures, Fifth Series (2000) edited by Nicholas Delbanco; The Writing Life with Marie Arana: About How Authors Think and Work (2003) by Marie Arana and based on Arana’s column in the Washington Post Book World.
And sometime writers insert into their novels experiences and ideas about the writing life. Stephen King (never read his books, but read about him) is an example of this technique. In Misery (1987) and Lisey’s Story (2006) tidbits are thrown at the reader that spell intimacy about the writer’s life.
Our deepest most illuminating secrets are hidden in layer-upon-layer of the mind, where research still struggles to dissect and solve the brain’s workings. The genesis of original ideas is a subject that artists and scientists continue to ponder with great consideration and questioning.
Doris Grumbach’s Fifty Days of Solitude (1994) demonstrates our need to challenge the seemingly unanswerable. After a critically successful novel, she decided her best chance to continue as a writer was to experiment with the hermetic life, and dig into her mind’s reservoir. Her observations from those days of solitude: “…I now needed to live…close to the bone, there had to be an inner stratum, formed and cultivated in solitude, where the essence of what I am, am now, and will be, perhaps, to the end of my days, hides itself and waits to be found by the lasting silence.”
And so I continue to find comfort and knowledge in authors’ musings on creativity and writing. I collect their words as though they will help me be a better writer. But no one else’s words can give me mine. But their wordplay reveals humankind’s extraordinary gift: the ability to take the mind’s work, combine and recombine it in limitless orchestrations.