I wish everyone would just sit down and write something. I wish my parents, grandparents, and ancestors would have written down something about their lives. They would have left more of a legacy.
We’ve turned writing into something scary and challenging; we’ve turned so many forms of creativity into a big, important deal, when ultimately it’s all very simple: You just sit down and write something and see what happens. Or sing something or paint something or put on a show and see what happens. It’ll probably be more worthwhile than watching reruns on TV.
We just need something to remind us how easy it is. Something to kick out the jams. Barbara Abercrombie, author of Courage and Craft, has just come out with a book that does the trick in a simple, easy, powerful way: A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement.
There’s an entry for each day of the year. First there’s Barbara’s reflection, and then she has a great quote from some writer. The quotes themselves are worth the price of admission. Here are a couple gems:
“Know that it is good to work. Work with love and think of liking it when you do it. It is easy and interesting. It is a privilege. There is nothing hard about it but your anxious vanity and fear of failure.” — Brenda Ueland
“The first thing the writer must do is love the reader and wish the reader well. . . . Only in such well wishing and trust, only when the writer feels he is writing a letter to a good friend, only then will the magic happen.” — Ellen Gilchrist
This is a valuable book for any creative person. Just flip it open to any page, and you’ll find the inspiration and encouragement you need to sit down and write.
“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.” — Stephen King
Here are a couple of excerpts to inspire you:
1. Switchbacks up the Mountain
When I’m stuck and scared to death of writing the first line, I drive up to a cabin I have two hours north of Los Angeles. The highway up the mountain, while a perfectly good road and well maintained, and in fact traveled by hundreds of people daily, is nevertheless dangerous; it goes from sea level to 5,800 feet with some scary switchbacks. A lot of awful accidents have occurred on this road, but it’s the only way up.
My cabin, which sounds romantic in theory but isn’t, has had its own dangerous moments: rocks thrown through windows by vandals; pipes freezing and then bursting, which caused a ceiling to fall in; a forest fire that stopped down the road just in time; a burglar who stole some totally useless speakers and an old computer during an evacuation for the above-mentioned fire; and in winter when it snows, the driveway fills up with huge drifts, and getting to the front door feels like you’re hiking over frozen tundra somewhere north of Canada.
Whenever I arrive up there, I’m grateful that I made it, and relieved if my cabin is standing unharmed and there aren’t five-foot snowdrifts blocking my driveway. I bumble around for a while, light-headed from altitude, with the silence bouncing off the walls and filling me with dread. Eventually I realize there’s nothing else to do up here but to open my laptop and start writing. Writing has always felt just like that road up, scary, full of dangerous switchbacks. Writing holds the possibility that I won’t have anything to say, not another word. That perhaps my imagination has dried up and my brain is empty.
We all have our own road up the mountain, or down into the valley, or in a small rickety boat over deep and dark water. Pick your metaphor. There’s no way to glide gracefully into writing, no way to hide who we really are. There’s always that loud space of emptiness and silence when you start to write, whether you’re in a cabin or your bedroom or an office. There’s no way to guarantee a safe, easy journey into words on the page. It’s just you and your memory and experience and imagination. Naked.
So up in my cabin, I put on some CDs, something loud and cheerful and raucous. If it’s cold, I light a fire in the fireplace; if it’s warm, I sit out on the deck and breathe in the pine trees. Then I read something that will inspire me, remind me why I’m up here without all the props of modern life and why I want to write in the first place. And pretty soon I feel calm enough to open my laptop. And I start writing.
I suffer as always from the fear of putting down the first line. It is amazing the terrors, the magics, the prayers, the straitening shyness that assail one.
— John Steinbeck
2. Sacred Space
The date you begin writing, or start a new book, should be memorable, like a wedding date or a birthday. Sure you can suddenly fly to your computer exclaiming today you start your book, your essay! But preparing for the day, suddenly yearning for the day, making it important, builds up energy for writing. Clearing your space, desk, table, or wherever you’re going to write, setting up objects or photographs you love, and making it inviting might be a good way to begin. You’re courting the muse, after all.
Take time to get ready. Find books by writers you love, writers who inspire you.
Figure out what time you’ll write. On your calendar put a slash through that time slot so you won’t inadvertently plan something else.
In the end, wherever and whenever you work, make your writing time and your work space sacred.
I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?
— Toni Morrison
Marc Allen is a renowned author, composer, and speaker. On the day he turned thirty, Marc cofounded New World Library with Shakti Gawain, and as the company’s president and publisher, he has guided it from a small start-up operation with no capital to one of the leading publishers in its field. His new book, The Magical Path, will be available in October 2012. He is a popular speaker and seminar leader based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
A widely published author and editor, Barbara Abercrombie teaches at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program. She lives in Santa Monica, California.