Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Some words of Wisdom

On of the blogs I read is Meet Your Muse written by author Jennie Nash. Her latest post had some real gems in it. I asked her I could post it here and she kindly consented. Thanks Jennie.

Writing and Faith

I wrote these words for Eric over at Topic Turtle. I thought they had a place here, too....

Sitting alone in a room putting words on a page in the hope that someone, someday will read them and be moved by them can easily be seen as an act of folly or desperation. We live at a time, after all, when many people struggle to pay for health care and put food on the table. In this economic climate, it’s easy to think that storytelling is superfluous, unnecessary, narcissistic — or worse. In order to continue doing it, day after day, with little or no encouragement or support, is an act of faith — even if you’re “just” doing it for half an hour in the morning before work, or on your lunch break, or in whatever time you can snatch in between carpooling the kids and doing the dishes. But the question is, how do you maintain the kind of faith that’s necessary? What do you to tell yourself to continue to carry on? Here are five suggestions:

1. I Have the Power. It helps to remind yourself that you have what it takes to write a story that will move people. We all have what it takes. We have been crafting stories and telling stories, and listening to stories our entire lives. My friend Lisa Cron, who has been a script reader and story analyst in New York and Hollywood for many years, says that there is a secret language of storytelling – and that we all know it by heart. The problem is that when the challenges of writing overwhelm us, we forget what we know. We forget our power. We give in to the doubt and the voices that tell us that we should quit. When this happens, remind yourself that the ability to tell stories is as uniquely human an asset an as opposable thumb – and start typing again.

2. I Have the Desire. I go to an ophthalmologist who is absolutely stunned that anyone would spend their days writing. “So are you still writing?” he asks me, every time I visit – and his tone is not merely idle office chit chat; I can tell that what he really means is, So you really sit there all day making up stories? and that what he is waiting for me to say is, Oh no, I finally gave that up that silly practice. I used to be offended by his tone, but on this last visit, he told me that he has attempted to finish the same book on each of his last five vacations but he can never seem to do it; suddenly I got it. My ophthalmologist is a man of science, a man who served this country in the armed forces, a man who has successfully run his own business, but he is not a reader and he therefore can’t understand why anyone would be a writer. If you, unlike my eye doctor, feel drawn in by words and stories, if you feel the desire to write, if you feel called, don’t fight it. Take faith from its existence in your life, because not everyone feels it. And it means something.

3. I Am Part of a Noble Tradition. At a certain point, faith in your own desire and your own power isn’t enough. In order to continue, you have to believe in something bigger than your own small self. For some people this faith can take the form of belief in god, but for writers across the entire spectrum of spiritual belief, it helps to believe in the great writers who have gone before you. Rather than be deflated by their brilliance (easy to do when you read something that soars and has lasted for centuries, or something that soars and just made the New York Times Bestseller List), you can be uplifted by your shared reality. My favorite explanation of this kind of faith comes from guitarist Glenn Kurtz, author of the book, Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music: Everything I need to make music is here, my hands, my instrument, my imaginations, and these notes. For most of their lives, Segovia, Casals, Bach, and Stravinksy were also just men sitting alone in a room with these same raw materials, looking out the window at people on the street. Like me, they must at times have wondered how to grasp the immensity of music’s promise in a few simple notes, how to hold fast to their devotions against a cutting doubt that would kill it.

4. I Don’t Have to Write a Blockbuster. The fastest way to kill your faith in writing is to tie your notion of success to the marketplace. The publishing business is too fickle and unpredictable, and books aren’t like ketchup or dish soap; no one knows why, exactly, one book sells 5 million copies and another doesn’t sell any, and you can’t game the system by trying to figure it out. All you can do is tell your story in the most crisp, clear, engaging way you can, and hope that you will be lucky enough to connect with even a small audience who is moved by your story. You can always hope that your story will be the one plucked from obscurity and celebrated all over the world, but hope is different from reality. You can’t take hope to the bank. You can enjoy it, and use it, and be motivated by it. But hope can't be what makes you write. Bookseller Christine Deavel, co-owner of Open Books in Seattle, Washington, sums up this reality nicely. “Most people in the book business know they will not make a lot of money,” she says, “There’s never been a bubble burst here — we never had a bubble. We find other rewards. There are still poetry lovers. Just a few minutes ago, I had a conversation with someone about Robinson Jeffers and Emily Dickinson. That is a form of payment for me.”

5. Writing Matters. If you lose faith in yourself as a writer, have faith, instead, in the power of writing itself. Writing has the power to illuminate, to heal, to amaze, to shock, to galvanize, and it can do so one-on-one, or within entire nations. Your story may seem small to you, but it could be enormously important to someone else. When you feel doubt about what you are doing, try to recall a book that had an impact in your own life. Think back to a writer who helped you over a hurdle, gave you an epiphany or brought you a measure of peace. Your feeling of gratitude for that experience can be enough to push you forward with your own work. It can remind you of why you’re doing what you’re doing, alone in your room, while the recession rages on. As Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, says, “What we do might be done in solitude and with great desperation, but it tends to produce exactly the opposite. It tends to produce community and in many people hope and joy.”

Written by Jennie Nash.

You might want to check out her blog and website too. Jennie has a new book out called The Only True Genius in the Family, it is a story about an artist's search for the source of inspiration and the limits of love. There is an excerpt from the book on her website I was really captivated by the first chapter and can't wait to get my hands on the rest of the book.


Olivia said...

Love it, Kate! Subscribed to her blog and bought her book. What great inspiration for writers...Thank you for this, xo, O

judie said...

Really, really good post about writing Kate! xoxoxo