“But why,” people asked me, “does everybody want to write?”
I don’t think everyone wants to create the great American novel, but we all have a dream of telling our stories—of realizing what we think, feel, and see before we die. Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate.
A long time ago I read Jack Kerouac’s essentials for prose. Four of them, in particular, have provided me with heart for the path:
Accept loss forever
Be submissive to everything, open, listening
No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language, and knowledge
Be in love with your life
Believe me, you, too, can find your place inside the huge terrain of writing. No one is so odd as to be left out.
Now, please, go. Write your asses off.
This book is about writing. It is also about using writing as your practice, as a way to help you penetrate your life and become sane. What is said here about writing can be applied to running, painting, anything you love and have chosen to work with in your life.
This chapter of ‘Writing down the bones‘ (by Natalie Goldberg) is illuminating. I mean: I’ve always believed in what it says, but these few lines express it in a wonderful and simple way.
WRITERS LIVE TWICE. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning. But there’s another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives everything a second time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks at the texture and details.
In a rainstorm, everyone quickly runs down the street with umbrellas, raincoats, newspapers over their heads. Writers go back outside in the rain with a notebook in front of them and a pen in hand. They look at the puddles, watch them fill, watch the rain splash in them. You can say a writer practices being dumb. Only a dummy would stand out in the rain and watch a puddle. If you’re smart, you get in out of the rain so you won’t catch cold, and you have health insurance, in case you get sick. If you’re dumb, you are more interested in the puddle than in your security and insurance or in getting to work on time.
You’re more interested, finally, in living life again in your writing than in making money. Now, let’s understand—writers do like money; artists, contrary to popular belief, do like to eat. It’s only that money isn’t the driving force. I feel very rich when I have time to write and very poor when I get a regular paycheck and no time to work at my real work. Think of it. Employers pay salaries for time. That is the basic commodity that human beings have that is valuable. We exchange our time in life for money. Writers stay with the first step—their time—and feel it is valuable even before they get money for it. They hold on to it and aren’t so eager to sell it. It’s like inheriting land from your family. It’s always been in your family: they have always owned it. Someone comes along and wants to buy it. Writers, if they are smart, won’t sell too much of it. They know once it’s sold, they might be able to buy a second car, but there will be no place they can go to sit still, no place to dream on.
So it is good to be a little dumb when you want to write. You carry that slow person inside you who needs time; it keeps you from selling it all away. That person will need a place to go and will demand to stare into rain puddles in the rain, usually with no hat on, and to feel the drops on her scalp.
What Are Your Deep Dreams?
From ‘Writing down the bones‘ by Natalie Golberg. I just finished this book and I’m so sad, it’s a guide to life in addition to creative writing… but I’m writing more then before, so thank you Natalie! 😛
IASKED MYSunday-night group (many of whom had been doing practice writing for three years), “Where do you want to go with writing? You have this strong creative voice; you’ve been able to separate out the creator and editor. What do you want to do with it?
There comes a time to shape and direct the force we have learned. I asked them, “What are your deep dreams? Write for five minutes.” Many of us don’t know, don’t recognize, avoid our deep dreams. When we write for five, ten minutes we are forced to put down wishes that float around in our mind and that we might not pay attention to. It is an opportunity to write down, without thinking, wishes at the periphery of our perceptions.
Reread them. Start to take your dreams and wishes seriously. If you’re not sure, if you honestly don’t know what you want to do, start wishing for a direction, for your way to appear.
When I was in Israel last year, I walked the streets of Jerusalem wondering what other kind of writing I should do. I was finishing my second manuscript of poetry,Top of My Lungs, and knew that I needed something, some new form. Lots of poets back in the Twin Cities were writing novels. Judith Guest’s success withOrdinary People, her first novel, spurred everyone on (she lives in Edina, Minnesota). I kept saying to myself, “Natalie, do you want to write a novel?” The answer was clearly “No!” There was some comfort in that, in knowing what I didn’t want. But I was worried. I had visions of my end, lying in the gutter, clutching a few last poems in my hand and, with my last breath, begging someone to read them.
There’s a wonderfulNew Yorkercartoon of a man standing in front of passengers on a plane with a rifle and a notebook in his hands, saying, “Now, sit still. No one is going to be hurt. I just want you to listen to a few of my poems.” Poetry has never been a favorite American pastime.
A friend who is a poet, now writing a mystery novel, suggested I write this book. I remembered that I had started it five years ago. The time wasn’t right then, but like our obsessions, our dreams do reoccur. We might as well pay attention to them and act on them. It is a way to penetrate into our lives; otherwise we might drift with our dreams forever.
Once you have learned to trust your own voice and allowed that creative force inside you to come out, you can direct it to write short stories, novels, and poetry, do revisions, and so on. You have the basic tool to fulfill your writing dreams. But beware. This type of writing will uncover other dreams you have, too—going to Tibet, being the first woman president of the United States, building a solar studio in New Mexico—and they will be in black and white. It will be harder to avoid them.