OMG. I LOVE THIS BOOK. Like, ADORE.
I haven’t read any author who sees the creative process like I do and describes it so… aptly. Reading this book felt like attending a writing workshop by Dani Shapiro and for some reason, that’s what I needed at this point in my life. I have a TON of quotes from this woman and the legion of writer colleagues she quotes in the book.
The book is divided into three parts: Beginnings, Middles and Endings. She talks about starting a book, the tough middle where many writers quit and wonderful, rewarding endings. I personally think that anyone with an interest in creative writing should read this. I also love that she mentions that some people who desire strongly to create might lack the skill and others who have the skill throw it to wind. I’ve been listening to/reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” which has slightly differing opinions sometimes (more on that in a later review) so I find it all interesting.
I cannot tell you everything I loved, so here’s what I’ll say: Read it. It’s not a long book and each chapter is probably about 3-5 pages long. My favorite chapters were ‘Trust’ (about finding a trusted first reader), Reading Yourself, Ordinary Life and Tribe. Sigh. So good.
The more we think about who’s going to read it, what they’re going to think, how many copies will be printed, whether this magazine or that magazine will accept it for publication, the further away we are from accomplishing anything alive on the page.
Start small. If you try to think about all of it at once—the world you hope to capture on the page, everything you know, every idea you’ve ever had, each person you’ve met, and the panoply of feelings coursing through you like a river—you’ll be overcome with paralysis.
The good writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson noted in his journal, seems to be writing about himself, but has his eye always on that thread of the universe which runs through himself and all things.
good work will find its way. When the work is ready, everything else will fall into place
when writers who are just starting out ask me when it gets easier, my answer is never. It never gets easier. I don’t want to scare them, so I rarely say more than that, but the truth is that, if anything, it gets harder
“When we are inspired, rather like when we are in love, we can feel both unintelligible to ourselves and most truly ourselves”
When I consider endings, I think of music—in particular, the experience of sitting in a concert hall at the end of a performance. If the music has hit its mark, a singular connection has been made and is being broken. But this break doesn’t happen all at once. When those last notes have sounded, they linger. The music doesn’t screech to a halt. It can’t. We—the listener, the reader—have to lean into it. To meet it as it hangs in the air, as it fades away, until finally it is only memory.
Cultures cherish artists because they are people who can say, Look at that. And it’s not Versailles. It’s a brick wall with a ray of sunlight falling on it.
It is the job of the writer to say, look at that. To point. To shine a light. But it isn’t that which is already bright and beckoning that needs our attention.
If I dismiss the ordinary—waiting for the special, the extreme, the extraordinary to happen—I may just miss my life.
if we are interested in delving deeply, if we are students of the observed life, we’d best take a good hard look at these easy fallbacks. Repeated words. Familiar phrases. Consider them clues. When you discover them, slow down. In fact, stop. Become willing to press against the bruise—it’s there anyway—and see what it yields.
This book is fantastic and if you’re wondering how I found Dani Shapiro, we have Maria Popova to thank for that :’)
Obviously 5/5 stars.