Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Sometimes you come across a book that you feel is literally speaking to you, and only you. For me, that happened last week when, walking through Chapters, I picked up James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers. I devoured the book in two days (and am now doing a second read-through, going slowly to absorb all of its goodness).

Whenever I read a book on writing or the writing process, it always gets me thinking about my own creative process and the turns I sometimes face upon my creative path. Some of you may already know that my first “contact,” if you will, with the arts came through music. At age six I started piano lessons, and shortly thereafter I was performing regularly in church. Thwarted unexpectedly into the spotlight, I tried desperately to escape it. Then, in my early twenties, I turned away from music turning down invitations to perform (mostly at various church functions). It was a way for me to affirm who I was. My parents saw it as an “act of rebellion” but I had other ideas about my life. I didn’t see myself as a church organist, nor did I have any desire for a professional music career. Perhaps, too, I was scared and doubted my talent. At the year-end concerts I was always terrified to perform because there were other students who were, without question, more talented pianists. (I had not learned, then, to stop comparing myself to others.) I may have also bought into the belief — preached at me by family — that a life in music, and the arts in general, was a dead end that would only lead to a life of alcoholism and drug addictions. Did I really want to end up like that? My mother prayed that I wouldn’t!

But by the time I was finishing my undergraduate degree in French Literature, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I poured my heart and soul into writing. I created a habit of writing daily, no matter where I was, and that has served me well. I still begin my day with my Morning Pages and then settle in to do my main writing work on a short story, revise a novel-length manuscript. I used to go for long writing sessions, scheduled in the morning, of about four hours before taking a break. Now my writing sessions are much shorter, about ninety minutes long because that’s about as long as I can hold my focus before becoming distracted. But those ninety-minute writing sessions are productive, and when I return to write again after a break, I am focused again and can easily pick up from where I left off.

What I love about my creative process is that it is fluid. It changes on a dime and I do my best to go with the flow. There are times, especially of late, when I’m completely lost in my writing, and that is all that I can do. So I give myself over to the writing, letting it work through me. Julia Cameron, in The Right to Write, summed it up well: “Writing is like breathing, it's possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what.”

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