Two years ago I read an amazing book called “The Right to Write” by Julia Cameron, full of warm-hearted wisdom about the creative process, self-doubt, self-criticism, and motivation. I’ve recommended this book to a number of writers since then, and decided today I would share the notes I took while reading, in hopes that you find them as encouraging as I did.
(These are part quotes, part summaries, typed here exactly as I penned them in my notebook. I’ve made bold the ones that most resonated with me.)
Begin where you are.
We have a mythology about writing – that it’s torturous, that it’s lonely, that suffering makes it mystical. There’s no such thing as a “real” writer – just people who write.
Look at writing like white water rafting – enjoy the “spills and chills of having gone through the rapids of the creative process.” (Page 7)
We have a product-not-process mentality towards writing.
We see the blank page as a serious and lofty thing, where everything that touches it must be perfect.
Listen. Don’t “think it up,” jot it down. Take direction, don’t give it. Don’t think of what to write about, write about what you’re thinking about.
“Most of us are willing only to write well. We are asking to do two jobs at once: to communicate and simultaneously impress.” (Page 11)
“When we forget ourselves, it is easy to write. We are not standing there, stiff as a soldier, our entire ego shimmied into every capital I.” (Page 11)
The time myth. You don’t need swaths of uninterrupted time. That’s an excuse to not start. Sentences happen in a moment – enough moments and you have a novel. Don’t wait for time, GRAB for it.
Allow writing to be rough, and it will be smoother. Allow it to be bad, and it will be good. “We want our sentences to march in neat little rows like well-balanced boarding school children.” (Page 30?) This makes writing stiff and paralyzing.
Treat your writer well. Give it treats, take it to nice places. Don’t bully it or badmouth it. Your writer will trust you and treat you well back. Think of it not as a fleeting lover but a devoted and consistent partner. (Page 37)
When you write based on mood, you write based on judgment.
Set aside time in which you only write, or try to write. If you succeed, great. If not, that’s fine, but show up. Be there. No words may get done but nothing else will get done either. That’s the deal.
Use your real-life emotions as fuel. Heartbroken? Use it! Angry? Use it!
Keep your inner well stocked. Have experiences, go places, absorb, learn, see, hear. This gives you ideas to pull from. Also makes you feel happy and inspired by life.
Be impulsive. Have faith that the writing will carry you, that it will reveal itself, that you will have ideas and they will be good or will lead to other ideas. You might not know what you’re doing or where a piece is going but trust it. You subconscious knows things.
If you’re having trouble writing something, write something else. Write whatever will come easily and naturally. Because as long as you are writing easily and naturally, then your novel will be written easily and naturally.
Think of your inner critic as the annoying, disapproving relative at a party. You can’t make them leave, but you can carry on despite their presence. And the more you ignore Annoying Aunt Critic, the less she’ll bother you.
Write for the reader you want to have. You can’t please everybody, so please the ones you want to please. Write for the reader who gets you. As author and reader, find each other.
Don’t think “discipline.” Think “commitment.” Discipline sounds like unhappy work, like punishment. Commitment sounds like a relationship, like devotion.
Have a willingness to be surprised. Don’t dictate everything.
Sometimes writer’s block is a protective response to a threat – to an unsupportive partner, to a harsh critic, to demands from a publisher that go against your beliefs as a writer. Remove the threat and the block may remove itself too.
“Don’t worry about being new. Worry about being human.” (Page 189) Do YOU demand that every book you read be totally new? What connects you to a book is the humanity.
Once we pose a question to ourselves, we begin to see the answers everywhere.
Write about what is important to YOU and the writing will naturally be more powerful. Try making a list of topics that have been on your mind and note the charge they give you.
Writers procrastinate because it lets them idealize what they’ll do next. Lets them not take risks or be vulnerable. We procrastinate because we’re waiting for that magical moment when what we write is perfection. This stifles us, makes us not write. Allow imperfection and you will be able to write.
Writing daily is not just for when you’re in the middle of a novel or have a deadline. It’s not because you “have to” in order to be “disciplined.” It’s because writing daily makes writing in general easier. It shuts down the censor, develops your style and skill, gives you ideas, and makes the act of writing feel natural.
There is a myth that only Great Writers should be allowed to write. But who decides who’s great? And how does a writer become great? Everyone starts somewhere.
The fear: I cannot accept writing something bad because I cannot accept feeling like a “bad writer.”
The truth: Not everything I write will be good. Accept it. Allow it. It does not define me.