The Right to Write: Follow Your Bliss (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

It’s been a pleasure to read with you these past weeks. Originally, these posts appeared at The High Calling. We read through that first time during the summer months. Now, as we journey through Advent, I find some of Julia Cameron’s thoughts all the more poignant. This is the last installment of our book club. 

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This morning I sat out back and read the final chapters of The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. My son joined me on the deck with his breakfast. I put the book face down on the table—ran my hand along the well worn spine and sighed deeply. We sat quietly for a while, letting birdsong and breeze speak for us. I picked the book back up, flipped through the last pages … set it down again.

“I need more coffee,” I announced to the air, wrapping fingers around my favorite green polka-dot mug.

I felt his eyes on my back as I went to the door.

“Are you procrastinating?” He asked.

I grinned.

How did he know I had just read that chapter?

It’s time to say goodbye to Julia Cameron.

I’m the kind of girl that when finished with a good read, I can’t move on to another quickly. I have to sit with the characters for a time … miss them some.

I have come to think of Julia Cameron as a friend these past weeks. Through her I met my muse, drew encouragement about my crazy writing schedule, and made my commitment to morning pages. I’ve made some new friends and strolled along with some familiars. Of most value, I think I have grown as a writer—having been courted, stretched, and loved.

The courtship is over, my friends. It’s time to step into the real commitment. Do you dare sign the contract? Do you dare follow your bliss?

If I’m going to marry this Writing Life, it has to be bliss. But, one thing I have learned from Julia Cameron is that the bliss can come after pushing through some pretty tough stuff. Isn’t that what marriage is all about?

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.” –Mythologist Joseph Campbell, who coined the phrase follow your bliss.

I couldn’t say it any better. Go ahead. Say “yes” to the Writing Life. It’s a sweet invitation.

Week 13: Roots
Week 12: I Eat with My Eyes
Week 11: Friendly Reader
Week 10: Feed the Horses
Week 9: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister
Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: Roots (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

I thought about Mary Ainsworth when I read Julia Cameron’s chapter on Roots in  The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life this week.

Mary Ainsworth is the developmental psychologist who, in the 1960s and 70s, conducted extensive research on Attachment Theory. She identified three different attachment patterns between infants and adults: secure, anxious-avoidant (insecure), and anxious-ambivalent (also insecure).

The most desirous attachment pattern is the secure type (of course), in which the child uses the caregiver as a secure base to which he returns periodically—but otherwise freely explores his environment. The infants who demonstrated insecure attachment styles either were too anxious about separation to explore the environment or showed little relational interest.

Just as the more securely attached infants were found to be more socially successful, Julia Cameron believes that writers who also have a safe base, or roots as she terms it, will be more successful as well.

In order to bloom, all of us need a root system. Just as a regular practice of writing roots us firmly in our lives, a regular life roots us firmly in our writing. Those long sabbaticals everyone lusts after so they can be truly productive seldom yield the promised result. Too often the yawning vistas of time yield self-involved work that yawns on the page…”

Roots—those things that anchor us into life—allow us the freedom to explore. When we have that safe base to return to—whether that is a day job, stable relationships, or some other regular routine—that security gives courage to creativity. It is the foundation on which to build new experiences.

Fine. But I’m not ready to give up my sabbatical fantasy yet. I don’t know about you, but the idea of living on a tropical island and doing nothing but writing (and lazing in the sun…listening to the sound of waves lapping the shore…) still seduces my imagination. But I understand what Cameron is saying. How many times have experiences from my day job inspired writing ideas that would have otherwise gone untapped? And if I didn’t have the security of a regular income, would I have dared invest my free time in writing a book?

Writers need to live in the world, Cameron says.

Give us too much self-involvement and we lose our involvement with the world. Yes, then we are boring…When we center our writing lives on our writing instead of our lives, we leach both our lives and our writing of the nutrients they require.”

Maybe Julia Cameron has a point. Chances are, if I did live on a tropical island with no responsibilities but writing, I would probably do everything but (I’ve always wanted to learn to windsurf …).

But I’m holding out for a happy medium. I think I could spend half the year on island time and the other half as responsible psychologist. Don’t you? Do you think life will wait for me? Perhaps one day I’ll have the opportunity to find out, but until then, I’m keeping my day job.

How about you?

Next week we wrap up the book with the last four chapters. Join us for Stakes, Procrastination, Into the Water, and The Right to Write. See you on the page!

Week 12: I Eat with My Eyes
Week 11: Friendly Reader
Week 10: Feed the Horses
Week 9: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister
Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: I Eat with My Eyes (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

I drive with the windows down and the air conditioning on. The sun burns through the windshield and though the air is cool, I must let the breeze ripple my hair, feel the wildness of strands licking face. I have the music loud—it fills the air around me, drifts out and spills onto the road I leave behind.

I remember this—this wild abandon. Running away from home. A windblown reckless feeling. Music soothing raw emotions.

But this is different. A happy running away. A running to. I drive into the future.

tendril of gray
ribbon unravels
from the horizon and
meets me here, under
four tires. the trees
know my name and

reach for me with
white arms, shoulders
bared and beautiful, roots
steeped in gems that
take flight—move as
one, a wind-shaken sheet

of color waving and
swaying to the music
of the road. a lonely
cow peers through
doleful eyes, lows
softly in my wake.

I drive into the sky.

When I drive, the places I pass become mythical memories … vibrant colors, quaint villages, loquacious livestock. My imagination soars.
Julia Cameron understands.

I am very aware that the art of writing devours images and that if I am going to write deeply, frequently, and well, I must keep my inner pond of images very well stocked. When I want to restock my images, I get behind the wheel of my car.

My everyday images lose their luster in the ho-hum drudgery of life. Sometimes beauty can be better seen from a few paces back … or through an open window, driving by. Loping hills and grassy meadows stir my appetite for words. Rich sunsets create a poetry all their own.

 …As a writer, I eat with my eyes, and that sumptuous sunset sated my appetite. Today I am hungry to write.

Next week in our book club discussion of The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, we explore Roots, ESP, and Cheap Tricks. See you on the page!

Week 11: Friendly Reader
Week 10: Feed the Horses
Week 9: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister
Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: Friendly Reader (book club)

 

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

Don’t be discouraged, but let’s go another round on this one….Remember the five steps of the writing process. Revise revise revise revise revise.

I stared at the email on my screen. I thought about the editor’s words. And then I smiled.

He had given me some suggestions to make my article better. But he did it in a respectful and caring way—ending with encouragement. I was impressed with the skill with which he gave me feedback. His words were not patronizing or condescending. They made me want to write better.

Isn’t that the point?

Julia Cameron would be pleased.

In this week’s readings of The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, she tells us we need just such a person to share our work with.

…The very vulnerability required to be open and creative is a vulnerability that puts our creativity at risk. For this reason, meticulous care must be taken to find “safe” readers and people who can be our “before, during, and after” friends to our work.”

But let’s face it. Such a person is hard to find. People have issues—especially writers. From jealousy to insecurity to our own ideas about how writing should be done, often feedback is more about the person giving it than the work itself. This is why, Cameron says, we must qualify our readers the way a bank qualifies an investor.

Why? Because bad criticism is dangerous.

…a writer’s block is often a very healthy self-protective response on the part of our inner creator to a dangerous threat…Gentleness, encouragement, safety—these are the watchwords to be put in place for criticism…I have seen more good writing destroyed by bad criticism than I have ever seen bad writing helped by good criticism…”

Criticism should foster growth–not discourage it.

Cameron says,

…When criticism was an art rather than an adversarial position, critics sought to shape and encourage by their comments. Deeply schooled in literary tradition, familiar with the tall trees of literary talents, they could often recognize promising new work the way a skilled forester might spot valuable seedling growth on the forest floor. Today’s critics are not trained to give or receive this kind of influence…”

 Thus, Cameron says, we must be choosy about who we share our work with. We must protect our creativity. We must choose readers who read with love.

I think I have found just the place for this here in this little online space. But I’ve also participated in local writing groups that have served this purpose.

How about you? Have you ever felt your writing was damaged by harsh criticism?

 Next week: Sound, I Would Love to Write, But…, and Driving. See you on the page!

Week 10: Feed the Horses
Week 9: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister
Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: InvitationAbove image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: Feed the Horses (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

A few years ago, a young patient that I worked with left a mark on me. The girl was admitted to the rehabilitation unit where I work with a severe brain injury. We like to believe that some aspects of recovery from brain injury follow a predictable course. But truly, each case is different—each individual emerging in his or her own unique way. It was fairly early in this child’s recovery. She showed little awareness of her environment. She was also nonverbal.

When will she talk? Her mother worried.

No one could give her an answer. Several weeks went by and there was little change. We began to wonder if the child would ever speak again. Often, at the end of the work day, I would sit beside her bed and pray—watching her noiselessly writhe around in the safety bed.

Finally, the day came. She spoke her first word. I’ll never forget the sweetness of that moment. That evening, I tried to capture the beauty in poem:

silence broken by
one lonely word—long
awaited. thin
voice, not as I
thought. tremulous,
leaf shiver, small
in life’s breeze. you
named her and we
cried as you
called out “mommy”

My young friend came to mind this week as I read our assignments from The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. What a precious gift is our voice—both vocal and written. It is one of the things that make us uniquely ourselves. This week Julia Cameron reminds me of this.

… I believe that each of us already has a unique voice. We do not need to “develop” it; rather, we need to discover or, perhaps better, uncover it.

As writers we are told that there is perhaps nothing more important than finding our voice. But how? How do we uncover our voice?

Not surprisingly, Cameron believes the secret is daily writing.

I work daily. I get up to write the same way I go out to the barn and toss hay to the horses. It is unthinkable that the horses not be fed and fed in a timely way so they do not get too restless. My creative horses demand the same care. They, too, must be fed and in a timely fashion, and that is why I write first thing in the morning.

… writing regularly and repetitively and from the gut yields you a writing voice that is full and beautiful regardless of which genre you apply it in.

There is no better way to open a writing voice than to write regularly, repetitively, and from the gut…

Do you detect a theme here?

So … How are your morning pages coming? Evening pages? Mid-afternoon pages? Are you writing anything on a daily basis?

If Julia Cameron is right, this is the key to uncovering my unique voice. That rich world that lives in my head—the world of color and warmth and life—its way to the page is through practice. It starts with first words.

Every day I feed the horses. And in doing so, I too am fed.

Next week: Footwork, Practice, and Containment. And don’t forget to hug a Veteran today!

Week 9: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister
Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.