Still Writing is Dani Shapiro‘s most recent book, a book she described at AWP as a “love letter to her tribe,” a book I might have bought just for its cover, a book that’s part inspiration, part memoir, part meditation, part craft. But to me, what it is more than anything is an affirmation. It’s saying yes to this writing life.
It is impossible to spend your days writing and not begin to know your own mind.
Writing is just about the only thing that’s ever allowed me more than a passing moment with what was going on inside me. Apparently I did a heck of a job locking all that up, probably starting way back in third grade. Which is why writing does not come easily to me. In fact, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
So what is it about writing that makes it–for some of us–as necessary as breathing? It is in the thousands of days of trying, failing, sitting, thinking, resisting, dreaming, raveling, unraveling that we are at our most engaged, alert, and alive. Time slips away. The body becomes irrelevant. We are as close to consciousness itself as we will ever be. This begins in the darkness. Beneath the frozen ground, buried deep below anything we can see, something may be taking root. Stay there, if you can. Don’t resist. Don’t force it, but don’t run away. Endure… This is the best part.
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.
But the only remedy–the only cure–for the writer is writing. It isn’t about the project, it’s about the practice… Most of us can’t tolerate extended breaks. We are reminded how lousy, how out of touch we feel when we’re away from the page.
I read this book a while back but am just now finding/making the time to write about it here. I made notes. Thank heavens. And these bits below I wrote under Someone out there like me : )
We spend our days searching for the perfect turn of phrase. And we consider this a good time… Who else would need the silence, the uninterrupted stretches of time, the special mug, the favorite pen? We ponder each word, aim high, strive for both music and meaning. We know that one is nothing without the other.
Doesn’t it always happen that as soon as you’ve sent it, suddenly you notice something you want to change? … [Now you’re] rereading your work as the person to whom you’ve just sent it.
It’s the middle of the day and I have barely stepped outside except to pick up a couple of envelopes of books and manuscripts that FedEx left on the porch. I have spoken to no one since seven o’clock this morning. I’m wearing the ratty T-shirt I slept in last night… These solitary days are my lifeline. They are the lifeline of every writer I know. We hold on to our solitude, fiercely protect these empty days.
Still writing? Yes.