Books for writers: Still Writing by Dani Shapiro
I recently reread Still Writing by Dani Shapiro for a writers craft bookclub I belong to. It reminded me why this book is always within reach on my writing desk. She understands what it’s like to be a writer.
She understands the frustrating truth that you can love writing, but sometimes find it almost impossible to begin. She has been through the awful middle of a project where you are swimming in words but losing sight of sentences. She reminds us that at some point we will have to end a project even knowing it is flawed.
The book is written in "chunklets" of wisdom. It’s divided into three sections, Beginnings, Middles and Ends. I would suggest that you read the whole book through and then keep it at hand to dip into when you are feeling low or discouraged.
For awhile I was in the habit of reading one or two chunklets after my morning meditation before starting to write. But like with many of my good habits, I stopped. But I intend to start the practice again.
"During the time devoted to your writing, think of the surges of energy coursing through your body as waves. They will come, they will crash over you, and then they will go. You'll still be sitting there. Nothing terrible will have happened. Try not to run from the wave. If, at one moment you are sitting quietly at your desk, and then - fugue state alert! - you are suddenly on your knees planting tulips, or perusing your favourite online shopping Web site, and you don’t know how you got there, then the wave has won. We don’t want the wave to win. We want to recognize it, accept its power, and even learn to ride it. We want to learn to withstand those wild surges, because everything we need to know, everything valuable, is contained within them."
Throughout the book she shares pieces of her personal story along with her writing advice. She writes about structure, but also taking risks, finding your writing well, the need for solitude and the need for community. This isn't a book on craft, it's about a writer's mindset.
She also speaks to the need to find our teachers. One of hers is Virginia Woolf. I think Shapiro's words about Woolf's A Writer's Diary, perfectly echo my feelings about her little gem Still Writing.
"If we keep our eyes open, we will encounter our true teachers. We don’t even need to know them. Virginia Woolf is my teacher. I keep her near me in the form of her A Writer's Diary. I flip the book open to a random page and encounter a kindred spirit who walked this road before me, and who – though her circumstances were vastly different from my own — makes me feel less isolated in the world. Though we are alone in our rooms, alone with our demons, our inner censors, our teachers remind us that we're not alone in the endeavour. We are part of a great tapestry of those who have preceded us. And so we must ask ourselves: Are we feeling with our minds? Thinking with our hearts? Making every empathic leap we can? Are we witnesses to the world around us? Are we climbing on the shoulders of those who pave the way for us? Are we using every last bit of ourselves, living these lives of ours, spending it, spending it all, every single day?"