The Right to Write: Start Where You Are (Chapters 1-3)

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When I first published this series at The High Calling, it was spring. This morning, my right here is a little different. Fall whispers around the edge of dawn but already the heat of day rests heavy in the air. Indian Summer, dog days, my family used to say about these last glimpses of the sun-filled season. I smell fresh-cut grass and am wooed by cicada-song. Spring feels far away in so many ways. Where does the time go? As I read these words I penned over five years ago, I can feel spring in my spirit. I feel the hope of new life again.

*****

I am sitting on the back porch looking out over the meadow behind our house. The sun is high in the sky, its heat tempered by a light breeze. A couple of Grackles are swinging on my suet feeder, stealing grub I had in mind for that elusive Flicker that visits occasionally. I should shoo them away. But I sit. The scent from the lilac bush tickles my nose, its heady perfume not quite full strength–the clusters of tiny flowers having not yet opened entirely. In the quiet I think I hear the whisper of petals unfolding. When the wind picks up, the air is dappled white as the apple tree sheds her glory. I picture the hand of The One Who Holds Everything gently tipping a giant salt shaker as petals surf the breeze around me, seasoning this day. Or is it sugar, these white flecks? It must be sugar. Because the sweetness of the moment falls on me like so many petals on the wind.

This is where I am.

The first trick, the one I am practicing now, is to just start where you are. It’s a luxury to be in the mood to write. It’s a blessing but it’s not a necessity. Writing is like breathing, it’s possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what.

Indeed.

Today we begin our book club discussion on The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron.

These are her first words of invitation: Start where you are.

We read the first three chapters this week, but Cameron had me on page one.

Start where you are. Oftentimes, isn’t starting the hardest part? And yet, when I sat down to do our first Initiation Tool exercise, Begin, my creative brain was awakened.

Begin where you are—physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Write about anything and everything that crosses your mind.

As I opened my eyes, as I listened, as I turned my attention inward…longing took hold. Memories flooded, ideas presented themselves…and I wanted to write.

I made a list of story ideas in the margin.

Writing is about getting something down, not about thinking something up, Cameron says. In these three chapters she encourages us to Just Do It, to rethink the notions we have about writing, and to listen to life.

Forget yourself, Cameron quotes Henry Miller as saying.

When we forget ourselves, when we let go of being good and settle into just being a writer, we begin to have the experience of writing through us. We retire as the self-conscious author and become something else—the vehicle for self-expression. When we are just the vehicle, the storyteller and not the point of the story, we often write very well—we certainly write more easily.

It worked for me. How about you? What spoke to you in these three chapters? Chime in in the comments. If you post about the book at your blog, leave your link so we can come and read.

Next week we’ll discuss three more chapters: The Time Lie through Bad Writing. See you there. It’s not too late to jump in!

This post was originally published at The High Calling and is shared here under a creative commons license.

Comments

  1. says

    I got a sample of this book on my Kindle, but it only gave me Chapter 1. Did I do the exercise? No. Why? I think I need to get past the “writing perfect” thing. I haven’t ordered the book yet. Why? (These are questions I pose to myself) I don’t hesitate to read a book that sounds like a good read. It’s not the price. Maybe it’s the work. The delving. The looking inside at myself and why I write. The need for perfection in my writing. Good and right writing. This is the right way, this is the wrong way. I don’t want to do it wrong. I thought we were just doing the first chapter, so I’ve got work ahead! I’m going online right now and ordering!

    • says

      Mary, you are making me smile! All these questions/hangups are actually addressed in this book. The need for perfection. The fear of the blank page. The hard work of just doing it. I hope you’ll find it’s not just work, but also a joy to delve deeper and grow in your writing. Praying blessings as you jump in!

    • says

      Julia gently prods us to get to work. I love her positive tone as she invites us to start where we are. She’s helped so many people get going in their creative pursuits–I’m glad you’re revisiting the book club and issuing your own invitation. Like I said, I loaned out my book, so I can’t follow along outside of what you excerpt, but I will gladly promote this in hopes that people will dig into the book and being writing.

      Also, her phrase reminded me…I published two podcasts on that theme: “Just Get Started” (my very first podcast) http://annkroeker.com/2014/12/08/writing-life-episode-1-just-get-started/ and “Start Where You Are” – http://annkroeker.com/2015/04/09/the-writing-life-episode-9-start-where-you-are/

      • says

        Oh, thank you for the links to your podcasts! I’ve been sharing your posts with some of my friends who are new to writing. I think you’re imparting invaluable stuff there. And thanks for sharing our journey here. Yes, Julia is a gentle teacher. Maybe because she knows how to “Affirm, affirm, affirm” :).

  2. Lynn D. Morrissey says

    Laura, I love Cameron’s work (this book in particular), and I love you. So there. Truly, your writing is always a gift unfolding. The advice to begin where you are is wonderful. So often I think I will run out of words (though my husband would strongly disagree!) . . . but that’s what I believe. I was just wrestling with the Lord about that a little earlier this morning. But if one begins where she is . . . if she records what she sees, or hears, or thinks, or feels at that very moment, because life is fluid, her words will never run out. I think for me, the problem IS beginning. I can be so loathsomely lazy. I am such a perfectionist that I don’t know WHERE to begin. I’m often thinking about it and not doing it. Do I actually stop and write about what I see, hear, feel, or think, for example? And because I can’t make a decision, then often, I DON’T! So I was glad to read your lovely piece which, in itself, is a prompt, a spur,a prodding just to start *anywhere.* And so I have done, in this response to YOU! 🙂 I love the Miller quote, too, and I think it is particularly apropos to *Christian* authors. When we submit to God as being His writing vessels, then we are obedient servants. We put ourselves and our pens at His disposable and allow Him to write through us (nothing spooky or mystically New-Agey here….that’s not how I mean it. It’s not voo-doo automatic writing, but sanctified, submitted writing….a willingness to be used of God and to believe He works through human instruments). I love this quote by Madeleine L’Engle in her wonderful book, Walking on Water: ““The artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver. In a very real sense the artist (male or female) should be like Mary who, when the angel told her that she was to bear the Messiah, was obedient to the command….I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.’ And the artist either says, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord,’ and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary.'” For me, though, I think that I *do* have to make a *conscious* decision. This matter of beginning is tantamount to being willing to be a writing vessel in the first place. Then, I think I will be able, by God’s grace, to become His vehicle for self-expression to record what I see, hear, feel, and think. Thank you so much for sharing, Laura! I love sitting at your lovely feet.
    Love
    Lynn

    • says

      Lynn, you are always so generous with your praise and I am grateful (and I love you too!). What you say here resonates with me tremendously. Getting started is the most difficult work for me too. Often, I think this is because of the linear way I think: I must begin at the beginning and proceed from there. When I don’t have a beginning, I just get stuck! Julia would bid us to just sit and write whatever comes out. When I am willing to do so, I often begin at what ends up being the middle, or the end, but my willingness to trust the process usually yields more productivity and beauty than my resistance!

      Thank you, also, for this discussion of letting the Spirit lead and offering ourselves as a vessel. I do remember the first time around when we read this book together at The High Calling, a few people felt Julia Cameron was “too new-agey” and shied away from the book due to some of her more floaty suggestions about “being a vessel” and such. When I read those parts from my Christian viewpoint, I am able to carry away so much good stuff that I would miss if I let fear lead. This is a bigger discussion, I think, about art and Christianity (one I think Madeline L’Engle addresses beautifully in Walking on Water. Did you know this past Sunday was the anniversary of her death? I’m re-reading A Swiftly Tilting Planet to commemorate. One of my favorites as a young girl). so I won’t belabor the point here. But I do believe that when we sanctify our imaginations, there is much we can learn from many different sources.

      So glad you stopped by this afternoon, my friend.

      • Lynn D. Morrissey says

        Laura, thank you so much for further reflections!! And yes, our beginnings can be our middles and ends (and sometimes, ends are our real beginnings! 🙂 ) About L’Engle: No, I was unaware of this anniversary. Hers is a real loss, and how thankful we are for her words which remain. And I have never read her fiction, but likely should. I also love her joint writings w/ her poet friend Luci Shaw. I thnk it is sad when Christians shy away from certain works because they are not Christian per se. All truth is God’s truth. And what constitutes Christian writing? Is it something written by a Christian, or does the topic have to be Christian, too? Ah, that’s another topic for another day. In the meantime, thank you for *this* discussion.
        Love
        Lynn

    • says

      Isn’t that beautiful? I am also reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg right now (taking me a while because I’m reading one chapter every morning on my days off from the hospital) and she says something very similar. Did you enjoy the first three chapters, Lyli? We’re reading three chapters at a time. I’ll remind everyone what to read for the following week at the end of each post. For next week, we’ll read The Time Lie (oh, conviction) through Bad Writing. I’m glad to be on this journey with you!

  3. says

    A little late to the party but I am here, nonetheless. This book surely echoes my heart when it comes to writing. The “writing like breathing” and the losing our breath when we are too “careful” to get it right spoke deep into my critical thinker who wants to backspace and edit sometimes before the words ever hit the page. Have you consistently exercised the 3 free form pages? I wonder if that will help me dump the jumbled mess of stuff residing in my head and help clean the cobwebs so I can grab my words and thoughts more easily. Then moving on to the naming…I have longed expressed “I like to write” and backed away from calling myself “a writer.” I wrestled with the definition or maybe it was the responsibility I gave the name. Chapter 3, the setting aside the “strain and struggle” of writing and learning to “forget ourselves” leads me to believe I may need some time on a therapy couch for writer’s as I turn these pages. ((smile)) Yet, I can’t help but feel that even in my perceived “wrongness” in writing, Ms. Cameron knows me well and I find her words gentle as a friend’s.

    • says

      I’m so glad you’re here, Denise. Your experience with the book sounds a lot like mine, initially. I found so much freedom in Julia’s words. After I first read the book (several years ago), I did keep a regular practice of morning pages for a time. I still remember that as one of my most creative periods. I don’t know why it’s so surprising that when I get out of the way of myself, I am much more productive and creative! Regarding the writer’s therapy couch, maybe this book will be just that! I do love the gentle way Julia Cameron has of reminding us of the reasons we fell in love with this practice of writing to begin with. Yay! So fun to share this with you.

  4. says

    Laura, thank you for this. All of it. For sharing Julia’s book. For sharing your thoughts and experience with Julia’s book and for encouraging the discussion. It is so liberating to finally read something about writing to which I can identify. What Julia calls the mythology of writing has never resonated with me. It has not been my experience at all. I’ve been in other discussion groups with writers and felt, alone. Read other books on writing and felt, confused. Chapter three nails it for me.

    I am a scribe. Yes, that is it exactly!

    This chapter so confirms what I struggled to write about on my blog back in January. And the discussion here, the comments from Lynn and others, just, thank you, dear friend.
    http://www.inspiredbyjune.com/2015/01/inspired-by-owning-it.html

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