It’s a fine line we writers walk, the line between wanting to be a writer and actually doing the work of it. As Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Sometimes, sitting at my writing desk in the mornings, trying to restrain my itchy fingers from clicking on the Facebook icon one more time, I sigh in frustration. Where is that inspiration they kept promising me would come if I showed up faithfully every day? I want to go downstairs and make myself a cup of coffee. I really should put in a load of laundry. And there is, of course, Facebook and Twitter to check.
Instead, I pick up Still Writing, Dani Shapiro’s new book. I open it up and read:
It’s so easy to forget what matters. When I begin the day centered, with equanimity, I find that I am quite unshakable. But if I start off in that slippery, discomfiting way, I am easily thrown off course - and once off course there, I stay. And so I know that my job is to cultivate a mind that catches itself. A mind that watches its own desire to scamper off into the bramble, but instead, guides itself gently back to what needs to be done. This kind of equanimity may not be my nature, but I can at least attempt to make it my habit.
If, as I have said to myself, that for this year at least what matters to me is this writing work I have set out to do, then I must be ever vigilant about guiding my mind back to what needs to be done, shepherding it gently away from the list of distractions all too ready to lasso it and wrestle it to the ground.
I must learn to be still. And write.
This book of Shapiro’s, this small square volume, sits now always on my writing desk, always at hand. It serves as a guide, when the writing road becomes rocky and my mind has wandered into the bramble. It is my devotional, a dose taken daily even before I touch my finger to the keyboard, before the screen blossoms into life. “The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life,” the book is subtitled, and Perilous it can seem at times, to have chosen a life of words, of weaving expressions smooth as silk from nothing but rowdy thoughts that flit and flicker across the valleys of my mind.
But oh, the Pleasure to be had when mind and fingers work in tandem, when thoughts form as tangible things in tiny icons of black and white, marching steadfastly across the blank page. When words mirror the images in your head, brush them with the glow of painter’s finest bristle, and set them alight for the world to see. When you finally understand that thing that has eaten away at you for most of your sad, sorry life, when the words have worked it around in your head until at last you say “Aha! Of course! That is why I am the way I am!” When you write, and write some more.
When hours go by and - still - you are writing.
There it is, then, the reason I sit down at this table every morning, the reason I shush the voices that beg me for coffee, that chide me about laundry, that niggle me for news from the Internet.
Be still! I tell them. Go away with you.
Author: Dani Shapiro
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press