The Right to Write: Invite the Muse to Tea (book club)

tea mugs

My muse is not happy with me.

She has caught wind of all the niceties Julia Cameron lavishes on her writer-self to care for Inspiration. In our reading of The Right to Write this week, Cameron reveals the wooing:

I explain…that I take my writer out for treats, that I buy it expensive coffee concoctions with foam like clouds. I take my writer on train rides to write and admire the view. I buy my writer journals, race-along-pens, an embroidered writing chair that I place by the window with good light. I try not to bully my writer or attack it. I try not to make it write only “should” without also writing “want-tos”. My writer has learned to trust me, to enjoy my company, and to treat me well back.

What about me? Muse asks, petulantly. All you’ve ever given me is sleep deprivation.

I had no idea, I tell her. I had no idea this was part of it all.

But this is not entirely true. Haven’t I felt the romance? Don’t I know how writing seduces? I know this love affair with words must be nurtured and fed just as sure as any relationship. But like a pampered lover, I wait for Muse to come to me. And then I wonder why she sometimes does not show up. I am like Cameron’s young friend Regine who wants to be ravaged, swept away, “taken” by her writing.

Cameron says:

I do understand. Sometimes my writing takes me like a fevered lover … More often, my writing and I meet halfway like a couple who wants to make love amid a busy week and don’t know quite how to get started… I have been encouraging Regine to invite her creative pregnancies, to pay attention to her stirrings, to invite the Muse to tea at regular hours to see if her writing can become a little less mysterious and more matter-of-fact.

Invite the Muse to tea? Really?

I like café au lait, she says. Or maybe one of those pumpkin spice lattes.

We sit by the window and sip our creamy café from heavy mugs. Something about the way the light moves through the glass brings to mind a childhood memory. It feels so close, so real, that I feel tears begin at the edge of my eyes. She reaches over and touches my hand.

Thank you, I say.

You are most welcome.

She grins. And I can’t help noticing the faint mustache of froth on her upper lip.

In our book club discussion this week, Julia Cameron talks about nurturing our writer, writing as appetite, how mood plays into this writing life, and the importance of keeping the drama on the page.

What spoke to you this week? Come share in the discussion, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Three more chapters next week: The Wall of Infamy, Valuing our Experience, and Specificity.

Image by Ginny. Sourced via Flickr. Used with permission.

The Right to Write: Write from Love (week 2)

 

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In the fall of 2000 I started writing a novel. The only creative writing I had done up to that point in my life was angst-ridden teenage poems and journal entries. I don’t know why the urge hit me when it did, but I can tell you the precise minute the desire washed over me. I remember where I was. I remember who I was with. I remember exactly what we were doing.

I was smitten.

Those first few months were a whirlwind. I wrote every spare second I could find. At the time, I had a one-year-old and three-year-old to care for, so the days were full. Oh, yes, and there was this: I didn’t want anyone to know I was writing.

I was painfully embarrassed by what seemed to be an impossible dream. I felt silly and impractical. But I couldn’t help it. The story filled my mind every waking second. It begged to be told.

My husband traveled a good bit for work during those early years, and though I missed him when he was away, my electronic typewriter (aka Herman) was a welcome consolation. I still remember how it felt when I pulled old Herman out from under the bed. My hands would shake, my whole body tremble; my heart rate accelerated and my tummy filled with butterflies.

I was in love.

While I no longer hide my desire to write, I understand some of what Julia Cameron says in this week’s book club readings from The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life:

If we learn to write from the sheer love of writing, there is always enough time, but time must be stolen like a quick kiss between lovers on the run…

Cameron addresses The Time Lie this week–that is, the excuse we all have made that we just don’t have enough time to write.

The trick to finding writing time, then, is to write from love and not with an eye to product…The obsession with time is really an obsession with perfection. We want enough time to write perfectly…Nothing communicates more clearly than love…When we let ourselves write from love, when we let ourselves steal minutes as gifts to ourselves, our lives become sweeter…

When I wrote that first novel, I sometimes would stay up until two or three in the morning … writing. I simply couldn’t tear myself away. This with two toddlers in the house. The added sleep deprivation was worth it to me. If I got home early from work, I drug Herman out…even for a meager twenty minutes! When my husband went for a run, I would write. I looked for opportunities to be alone with my typewriter. I never missed a chance to rendezvous with Herman.

Cameron refers to this “grabbing” of time as “more like making a patchwork quilt than unfolding bolts of limitless and serene silk.”

I understand, Julia. I understand.

This chapter especially spoke to me, helping me recall my first love. This week we also read how writing helps us map our interiors (laying track) and how “in order to be a good writer,” we have “to be willing to be a bad writer.”

What spoke to you in this week’s readings? Was there a particular initiation tool that got the creative juices flowing?

Three more chapters for next week. That’s This Writing Life through Drama. See you there!

Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

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

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.

The Right to Write: A Book Club Revisited

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A couple weeks ago I received a note from a beautiful new friend who is interested in writing. “I have a passion for writing,” she said. “I just have trouble getting my thoughts out and I was wondering if you would be willing to give me any tips or suggestions.”

Would I? She may have regretted this innocent query because I proceeded to flood her inbox with an influx. One of the books I recommended to her was Julia Cameron’s  The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. It’s one of my favorite books on writing, a sort of abbreviated version of The Artist’s Way. And then I remembered we did this book as one of our book club selections at The High Calling. I thought it would be fun to re-run that series here on Wednesdays. Cool? Here is my introductory post that was featured at The High Calling a few years ago:

I start with the usual, the question that invites me into her world. Tell me a little about what brings you here. Tell me your story. She is alone. No family, just this one. But she looks around, bewildered. If I had read her chart ahead of time I would know. The stroke that ravaged her brain has left her with dysphasia —a language disorder that fights against the flow of words. She struggles.

Too late I realize my mistake. I’ve seen this look before. I begin to back pedal, search for a way to soothe her in this loss. But then, it comes out. I don’t know, she says, haltingly, everything was so perfectly, wonderfully beautiful…and then suddenly, it was not so. This would be the longest sentence she says to me her entire stay in the hospital. I think about this gentle woman later in the day. I think about her before I go to bed. And I think about her the next morning.

Why do I write? Why should I write? In the coming weeks we’ll be looking in depth at that question as we read together The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. In the introduction, author Julia Cameron says:

We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance as well.

There’s more:

We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living…We should write because writing is good for the soul…We should write, above all, because we are writers whether we call ourselves writers or not. The Right to Write is a birthright, a spiritual dowry that gives us the keys to the kingdom…

I write, in part, because eternity is set in my heart. I desire to leave a part of me behind when I go—or when the world is suddenly not so wonderfully, perfectly beautiful. As Shakespeare says in Sonnet 65…in black ink my love may still shine bright. Life is fragile. When I record what I see, I attend all the more to the finest of details.

Won’t you join me on this journey? I’ll be discussing The Right to Write by Julia Cameron every Wednesday. We have forty-three chapters to cover, so we’ll do three a week, for a total of thirteen weeks. Each chapter has an exercise at the end that serves as an initiation tool. Don’t let this scare you! These are short, simple exercises designed to awaken creativity and I would encourage you to try them out. So come and learn about life and writing with us, and join the discussion in the comments. It will be like attending a writer’s conference from your couch.

This post was originally published at The High Calling and is reprinted here under a creative commons license. Some minor changes have been made to account for context.