On The Right To Write

I recently finished reading The Right to Write – An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life – by Julia Cameron. As best summarized by the author: ” What this book will do, if I have done it well enough, is t talk to you about writing for the sake of writing, for the sheer unadulterated joy of putting words to the page. In other words, this is less a ” “how to” book than a “why” book. Why should we write? 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. We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing is good for the soul. We should write because writing yields us a body of work, a felt path through the world we live in.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

As a result, most of us try to write too carefully. We try to do it “right.” We try to sound smart. We try, period. Writing goes much better when we don’t work at it so much. When we give ourselves permission to just hang out on the page. For me, writing is like a good pair of pajamas—comfortable. In our culture, writing is more often costumed up in a military outfit. We want our sentences to march in neat little rows, like well-behaved boarding-school children.

If we eliminate the word “writer,” if we just go back to writing as an act of listening and naming what we hear, some of the rules disappear. There is an organic shape, a form-coming-into-form that is inherent in the thing we are observing, listening to, and trying to put on the page. It has rules of its own that it will reveal to us if we listen with attention. Shape does not need to be imposed. Shape is part of with attention. Shape does not need to be imposed. Shape is part of what we are listening to. When we just let ourselves write, we get it “right.”

Not writing is the lonely thing. Not writing creates self-obsession. Self-obsession blocks connection with others. Self-obsession blocks connection with the self Writing is like looking at an inner compass. We check in and we get our bearings. Ah-ha! I am feeling, thinking. remembering. . . . When we know accurately what it is that we are doing, we tend to be more open, accurate, and affectionate in our dealings: I can miss David, but I can’t blame David anymore. I am the one who didn’t write enough yesterday.

People who write out of “discipline” are taking a substantial risk. They are setting up a situation against which they may one day strongly rebel. Writing from discipline invites extremism: “I have to do this or I’m a failure.” Writing from discipline creates a potential for emotional blackmail: “If I don’t write I’ve got no character.” People who write from discipline also take the risk of trying to write from the least open and imaginative part of themselves, the part of them that punches a time clock instead of taking flights of fancy. “Commitment” is a word I prefer to the word “discipline.” It is more proactive, more heart-centered, and ultimately more festive and productive. This is not mere semantics. If we are to be involved with writing for the long haul, we want to be comfortable in relationship to it. If we are relating to our writing as a “should” instead of as a desired good, we run the jeopardy of experiencing our writing connection like a thankless marriage: we’re there, but we don’t want to be. We’re thinking of what we’re missing.

We are all works in progress. We are all rough drafts. None of us is finished, final, “done.” How much healthier and happier if we ignore that mafioso’s advice to me and we put “it”—all of “it”—in writing: the flaws, foibles, frills, fantasies, and frailties that make us human. When we connect these dots, we connect.

I like writing to be more portable and flexible. I like writing to be something that fits into cracks and crannies. I don’t like it to dominate my life. I like it to fill my life. There is a big difference. When writing dominates a life, relationships suffer—and, not coincidentally, so does the writing. When writing is about being shut off” from the world in a room sequestered with our own important thoughts, we lose the flow of life, the flow of new ideas and input that can shape. improve, and inform that thought. It is a matter of balance. Yes, we need time and space to write, but we do not perhaps need as much time and as much space as we might think. Rather than being a private affair cordoned off” from life as the rest of the world lives it, writing might profitably be seen as an activity best embedded in life, not divorced from it—of course such a view of writing smacks of heresy.

The root of the word “integration” is the smaller word “integer,” which means “whole.” Too often, racing through life, we become the “hole,” not the “whole.” We become an unexamined maw into which our encounters and experiences rush unassimilated, leaving us both full and unsatisfied because nothing has been digested and taken in. In order to “integrate” our experiences, we must take them into account against the broader canvas of our life. We must slow down and recognize when currents of change, like movements in a symphony, are moving through us.

In those, and most professions, we assume that an interest in pursuing the career implies a probable proclivity for it and a reasonable chance for success. Not so with writing. The truth is, when you want a writing career and are willing to do the work to get it, the odds work with you, not against you. This is simple metaphysical law. As Goethe advised us, “Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it—for action has magic grace and power in it.”

“Scrutinize second,” I laid down a rule for myself “Write first and freely.”

1. Write daily, even if only Morning Pages. 2. Use tools like Media Deprivation and Blasting Through Blocks to give you a jump-start 3. Watch your telephone consumption. 4. Watch your note production. 5. Set a clock for one half hour’s writing time. Pray for the willingness to write—and then write.

“Thou art truly human.” To be truly human, we all have the right to make art. We all have the right to write.

A highly recommended read in the areas of communication and writing.

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