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Gleanings: Writing Indulgence–go for it.

“It strikes me as interesting that if someone loved banking, he wouldn’t chastise or castigate himself for choosing that life. If someone loved history and wanted a life as a history professor, that would be a socially acceptable choice, although it is, in fact, ever bit as self-indulgent as doing anything else you love–writing, for example. ~ Julia Cameron, The Right to Write.

I am struck by the question: So what if it looks self-indulgent? Who is to judge?

When I first began writing, eons ago, I felt guilty about the hours spent, when I ‘should’ be cleaning house, cooking dinners, sewing clothes, volunteering on school field trips, maybe getting a ‘real’ job to make managing the budget easier. But the compulsion pulled at me–I just had to write, something I barely realized. I simply felt terribly guilty, even while I wrote. After I was a selling writer, I felt somewhat better, but still, the roles of wife and mother that in my mind, how I was raised to think of those roles, nagged at me. I tried to do it all–keeping the house, being available as a mother and wife, yes, I went and read to children at school and went on field trips, and every evening met my husband with a glass of cold tea and helped him with his projects, too. During the day, I wrote. I pushed myself beyond all my body’s ability to do and be everything to everyone. Eventually I broke under the weight of all the ‘should’ I imposed on myself, and all of it distorted thinking because I did not understand how much the world imposes ideals on us.

Today I am back at my writing, because I finally realize it is an enormous part of me and a requirement to keep breathing on the earth. Mornings are mine. I have an urge to shout it at the world. Mornings are when I write, or dream, or putter, or read. Don’t interrupt me. Yes, I still have a bit of trouble holding fast to this, but I’m getting better. In fact, as I write this, I think of a situation with someone that I will have to step up and change, because it interferes with my morning. It occurs to me also that there are sacrifices involved. This is called responsibility for my life.

What happens when you finally take responsibility for your life? No one to blame.

I’m not talking about leaving your spouse and children. I’m not speaking of the immature self-indulgence–although, really, who is to decide this but each of us individually? But I do say today is given to you, 24 hours given to you, not to the world to tell you how to live. Make a choice for at least a portion of those hours to write, to bake, to garden, to let yourself hear what is in your heart to do, even if it takes trying different things to find out. Even if it looks like a waste to other people. It occurs to me that what we are about is allowing ourselves to be ourselves.

Gleanings: You Become What You Read, Techniques of the Selling Writer

“Read all sorts of things, especially in your preferred genre…Read everything that’s good. Start with Pulitzer Prize winners and National Book Award winners, the Booker Prize and Whitbread winners…” ~ Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, Pen on Fire.

The above advice is good, with exceptions. I once read a Pulitzer Prize winning novel in which men had sex with cows. I stopped with that scene and started to laugh. Did the author even know cows up close? Did those Pulitzer people know cows?

I have heard and seen enough in this business now to know that books can get popular and receive prizes for many reasons, none of them to do with the merit of the book. There are books put forth with prizes because of shock value in one form or another, although today it is nearly impossible to come up with anything shocking. It’s all been done. Others get prizes because of who the publicist or writer knows, or because they were given half a million in promotional budget, or the author is talented at promoting. Now before you get all up in the air about this statement, let me state that of course most books that win prestige and bestseller status are outstanding and deserving.

Such is the case of one book I recently set aside unfinished. It had a gold stamp of some sort of prize on it; the book had been highly recommended by a writer friend, too. But the book, wonderfully written (I kept reading far into the book because of the excellent prose), did nothing for me. I do think it is a commendable book. I see why people like it, but I did not care for it. I know why I did not care for it– the subject matter did not interest me, and I found I wasn’t moved by the point of view used, too distant for me. It is important for me to know these things, helpful to learn for my own writing, and to know myself.

“…the first rule of successful story-writing is find a feeling.” ~ Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer.

Techniques of the Selling Writer was first published in 1965, revised, it appears, in 1974. In the mid ’90s, an author of multi-New York Times bestsellers told me that she read Swain’s book through each time she began a new novel. She is yet still selling.

We never get beyond needing to learn and grow. That is the excitement of writing. I find Swain’s book is one that speaks to me, makes me feel and moves me to say, “Oh, that’s what I need!” and “Yes, I can do that,” and “I can work on that to make it better.”

Find books that speak to you. If one doesn’t, pick up another. Writers must read, but we must read what touches us individually and makes us feel, which is the point of reading and of writing. Don’t let others choose for you. Use your own opinions. Find the books that you feel are written just a bit better than your own writing, the books and articles that make you want to jump up and get writing– or gardening, or painting, or designing your dream home. Be true to your unique self, and you are moved forward.

Gleanings: No Negative Criticism Allowed, and Writing is Medicine

“I hammer it into all my students: You must shut out all the negative voices that say you’ll never write as well as you hope, that you are just no good and why bother.” ~ Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, Pen on Fire.

Boy, these voices are loud, and so authoritative sounding. Many come from outside ourselves in the voices from friends and family. I can recall a neighbor who said, “Oh, those romances, they’re all the same,” and dismissed my efforts. Then once my book was published, more than one person scoffed and said, “When are you going to write a real book?”

Most of the negative voices, however, come to us from within our own minds. They are our own voices, the doubts formed by impressions of living in the world, where there are so many disappointments. We’re taught to down-play ourselves. We’re taught from the time we begin school to ‘fit in’, and ‘don’t think to highly of yourself, missy.’  Society is all the time telling us we must do better, be better–television ads demand we have a whiter smile, colored hair, ripped abs, fast and gleaming car, cell phone that can run the world (never mind that it ends up running us), kids on the honor roll and best house on the block. These messages come relentlessly, and we end up feeling not quite good enough.

Also, and I’m going to say it, there is the devil. Yes. See that guy right there on your shoulder. You have a good idea and it excites you. That devil just whispers in your ear that you’re being silly. How many great dreams are stolen this way?

I want to tell you that I had those voices in my head, but I went on and wrote 30 books anyway. What I look back now and see is that once I began to write, once I turned my imagination loose, my imagination was so loud that I did not hear the negative voices. There were times when the doubts were so loud, I actually said: Shut up, I’m writing.

Today I know that writing is what Julia Cameron says:

“Writing is medicine. It is an appropriate antidote to injury. It is an appropriate companion for any difficult change.” ~Julia Cameron, The Right to Write.

Start writing, painting, cooking, anything you imagine, and the negative voices fade. Don’t let anyone, especially that voice of doubt, tell you that you can’t do something.



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