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Writing advice from friends old and new

A few important reminders from writer Natalie Goldberg, artist and author of the uber-classic Writing Down the Bones. Like Julia Cameron, Goldberg asserts that writing is a basic element of connected existence for everyone, writers and non-writers alike.

Goldberg’s most recent book, An Old Friend from Far Away, was released in February. Old Friend is about writing personal memoir — exploring memories and connecting with the self in a way that opens doors for all who follow a creative path. I haven’t read the book yet, but Goldberg is certainly an “old friend” to many of us.

In this morning’s Boston Globe, novelist Allegra Goodman published the op-ed piece “So, you want to be a writer? Here’s how.” She advises against writing about yourself and advocates reading widely (of course) and finding a peaceful place to work (yeah, right).

And this is true for everyone, but especially for women: If you don’t value your own time, other people won’t either. Trust me, you can’t write a novel in stolen minutes outside your daughter’s tap class. Virginia Woolf declared that a woman needs a room of her own. Well, the room won’t help, if you don’t shut the door. Post a note. ‘Book in progress, please do not disturb unless you’re bleeding.’ Or these lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which I have adapted for writing mothers: ‘. . . Beware! Beware! / Her flashing eyes, her floating hair! Weave a circle round her thrice, / And close your eyes with holy dread, / For she on honey-dew hath fed, / and drunk the milk of Paradise.’

Unfortunately, the “don’t bother me unless you’re bleeding” routine really isn’t appropriate for mothers with children under the age of six, to my mind. What do you think?

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Personally, I wish this whole memoir boom would, well, bust. It’s made us all self-absorbed so that we’re only interested in telling OUR story rather than becoming creative and, y’know, inventing a character, someone not based on the face in the mirror. There’s a place for talking about yourself and that’s a personal journal–one that you can leave to your kids or burn in embarrassment years later. I prefer richly imagined characters, composed by an author who doesn’t constantly write with one eye on his/her navel…

    August 11, 2008
  2. I agree that navel gazing gets old pretty quick, but I firmly believe Grace Paley’s advice to “write what you don’t know about what you do know.” In this sense, memoir exercises can be useful in developing snippets and frameworks to be used in a fictional context. For me, satisfaction in writing comes from transforming my life experiences — and the “characters” I really know — into something larger than life.

    August 11, 2008
  3. cathy #

    i find it very releasing to work out my own s*** on paper 1st, then i can get to my ‘real writing’ and my fiction is very much based on what actors discuss relying on – sense memory. so if i don’t know much about actual astronomy, i can write about star gazing. as for publishing navel variety beyond blogging, who knows. but i do enjoy reading memoirs and autobios a lot, esp if purpose beyond n-gazing is apparent in the writing.

    i love the bit on don’t disturb unless bleeding! but i have to agree with miranda on not an option for the under 6 set.

    when boys were younger, i put a baby gate across kitchen and my mantra thru their appeals for attention was ‘mommy’s morning pages!’ eventually, they figured out i wasn’t coming out unless one of them was dying until 3 pages were written.

    August 11, 2008
  4. I think it’s very limiting to say one “can’t” write a novel in stolen minutes outside tap class. Every time someone says I “can’t” I say, “Oh yeah??” OK, so maybe you can’t WRITE A NOVEL that way… but you can draft scenes. You can outline. You can brainstorm characters. All of it counts. And if that’s all that’s good enough until your kids do turn 6… then so be it. That’s no one else’s business.

    As for the memoir thing, my life simply isn’t interesting enough to put down in that form (LOL!) but I do draw heavily from my own present experiences when writing. While pregnant I set down many of my emotions in the mind of a character in a new novel, for instance. On the flip side, I’ve found it much harder to write post-apocalyptic zombie fiction when I am in a very positive frame of mind with my newest ventures! If writing is about reaching out to other people, then what better way to do that than via the experiences everyone shares at one time or another?

    August 11, 2008

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