With the new year just around the corner, I have made myself a promise that 2020 is the year I become real. I have hidden my true self for so many years, afraid of the judgment of others. I know that I am not alone in this feeling. Many people feel, as I do, that I often find myself doing what seems like ‘earning my right to live.’
For someone who grew up in a very dysfunctional family, you learn early on that you must perform well to be loved. You must be perfect and excel at all the things you try. As a soon to be a 65-year-old woman with an inner child that is still in tremendous pain, it has only just occurred to me recently that I still find myself trying to earn my right to live. What a damn sad state to be in!
When the truth is, we don’t have to earn shit. As the poem Desiderata states unequivocally, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. Well, my time of trying to earn my right to live is ending, folks. I hope yours is too. This new idea of freedom brought along with it the decision to start being totally honest and vulnerable, to open my closed-up heart.
I am going to be using this blog as a sort of journal, sharing my thoughts and feelings on my life and on how writing has and continues to heal me. I welcome your input, your own feelings, and suggestions.
Here is some great advice from classic writers in an article from The Guardian.
Over the past year, Helen Gordon and I have been putting together Being a Writer, a collection of musings, tips and essays from some of our favorite authors about the business of writing, ranging from the time of Samuel Johnson and Grub Street to the age of Silicon Roundabout and Lorrie Moore.
Researching the book, it quickly became obvious that there isn’t a correct way to set about writing creatively, which is a liberating thought. For every novelist who needs to isolate themselves in a quiet office (Jonathan Franzen), there’s another who works best at the local coffee shop (Rivka Galchen) or who struggles to snatch an hour between chores and children (a young Alice Munro).
Conversely, it also became apparent that alongside all this variety of approaches, there are certain ideas and pieces of advice that many writers hold in common. In an 1866 letter to Mrs. Brookfield, Charles Dickens suggests that: “You constantly hurry your narrative … by telling it, in a sort of impetuous breathless way, in your own person, when the people [characters] should tell it and act it for themselves.” Basically: SHOW DON’T TELL. Three words that will be familiar to anyone who has sat in a 21st-century creative writing class.
Our book, therefore, contains a lot of writing advice, ranging from the sternly practical to the gloriously idiosyncratic. We have writers talking about what went wrong, as well as what went right. They discuss failing to finish a manuscript, failing to find a publisher, badly realized characters and tortuous, unwieldy plots. Here are a just few of our favorite tips, which we believe any aspiring writer should take to heart.
1. Hilary Mantel – a little arrogance can be a great help
“The most helpful quality a writer can cultivate is self-confidence – arrogance if you can manage it. You write to impose yourself on the world, and you have to believe in your own ability when the world shows no sign of agreeing with you.”
2. Leo Tolstoy and HP Lovecraft – pick the hours that work best for you
Tolstoy believed in starting first thing: “I always write in the morning. I was pleased to hear lately that Rousseau, too, after he got up in the morning, went for a short walk and sat down to work. In the morning one’s head is particularly fresh. The best thoughts most often come in the morning after waking while still in bed or during the walk.”
Or stay up late as HP Lovecraft did: “At night when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet hour. No one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night.”
3. William Faulkner – read to write
“Read, read, read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”
4. Katherine Mansfield – writing anything is better than nothing
“Looking back I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.”
5. Ernest Hemingway – stop while the going is good
“Always stop while you are going good and don’t worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry bout it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”
6. John Steinbeck – take it a page at a time
“Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day. It helps.”
7. Miranda July – don’t worry about the bad drafts
“I was a lot dumber when I was writing the novel. I felt like worse of a writer … I would come home every day from my office and say, ‘Well, I still really like the story, I just wish it was better written.’ At that point, I didn’t realize I was writing the first draft. And the first draft was the hardest part. From there, it was comparatively easy. It was like I had some Play-Doh to work with and could just keep working with it – doing a million drafts and things changing radically and characters appearing and disappearing and solving mysteries: Why is this thing here? Should I just take that away? And then realizing, no, that is there, in fact, because that is the key to this. I love that sort of detective work, keeping the faith alive until all the questions have been sleuthed out.”
8. F Scott Fitzgerald – don’t write and drink
“It has become increasingly plain to me that the very excellent organization of a long book or the finest perceptions and judgment in time of revision do not go well with liquor. A short story can be written on the bottle, but for a novel, you need the mental speed that enables you to keep the whole pattern inside your head and ruthlessly sacrifice the sideshows … I would give anything if I hadn’t written Part III of Tender Is the Night entirely on a stimulant.”
9. Zadie Smith – get offline
“Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.”
10. Muriel Spark* – get a cat
“If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially on some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work … the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle under the desk lamp. The light from a lamp … gives the cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impeded your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable and very mysterious.’
*(or rather, the character of Mrs. Hawkins in A Far Cry from Kensington.)
This great post from Tiny Buddha is well worth a read.
I am Denise Grier, a professional writer, blogger, and Certified Life Coach. I am so glad you decided to visit this website to find ways to heal through writing.
I have been a poet all my life, so writing is second nature to me. But I really got serious about how you can begin to heal through writing after losing my 30-year-old son to suicide in 2005. If it weren’t for writing, I really don’t think I would be here today.
This site, WritetoHeal.org was created to use my experiences with grief and writing to offer my help to others who are suffering. If you need to talk about anything, just leave me a comment below. If it needs to be of a more personal nature, send me an email to email@example.com.
The plan for this site is to make myself totally available to those of you who are suffering, for whatever reason. As I continue to build the site I will be offering books, classes, workshops, resources available for those who need healing, and whatever else I come up with that I feel will be helpful to my readers.