The books next to my bed are my "secret stash," books I have acquired over several years, most of which I have not read. I sometimes wonder if I enjoy owning them more than reading them, because I am unconsciously so hesitant to read them.
I should mention that every single one is about the craft of writing.
If I sit and analyze this a bit (as I am doing right now), I think there are several competing reasons for my resistance to reading them. Most strongly, I think of these books as treasures that I do not want to fritter away carelessly. I want to read them when I can truly enjoy them. I am the sort of person who eats the frosting last when eating a piece of cake. I am good at delaying gratification. These books are the ultimate dessert for me.
But I also know that a rather large part of me is slightly afraid of these books as well. To read them feels like I am claiming that I am a writer, and I am not ready to do that. I certainly love to write, but in no way would I call myself a writer. Yes, I have written some articles, but those are three to four pages at most, and emerge out of my own experience and training. I would not say they truly emerge out of some deeper place, though at times I have twiddled with the edges of it.
Lastly, there is a part of me that feels pressure: once I finish these books, there will be no more excuses. No longer would I be able to say that I cannot start writing until I have learned how to do "it." Believe me, I know that is completely lame and one only learns how to write by writing, and rest assured, I do that almost every day. I just haven't figured out if I want to go further than that. I love everything I am working on in my life, but many times I have had the conversation of whether or not I have at least one book in me...
So this week, I had some space to let myself pull out one of my precious treasures. There is only one other book in the stack that I have read: The Faith of a Writer, by Joyce Carol Oates, that I read this past June during my vacation in Grand Teton.
This new one is pictured above: Writers Dreaming: Twenty-Six Writers Talk About Their Dreams and the Creative Process by Naomi Epel. First off, let me say, this is a funny little book. It was published in 1993, and quite possibly the most quaint thing about it is how often each writer refers to working on a word processor. My, how times have changed.
And I am not sure one can really call it a book as much as a collection of interviews. Epel has apparently hosted a weekly radio show called "Book Talk," and she is also a "dream researcher" (right, I don't know what that is either). Writers Dreaming compiles the notes from her interviews of writers and how dreams have influenced their work.
I will tell you that I pay attention to my dreams. I do not see anything magical in them. They are not crystal balls that I consult to figure out my future. As a mentor has told me, Dreams are simply your unconscious trying to figure yourself out. So I pay attention to my dreams to find out what is really bothering me, what I am afraid of, what I am yearning for, etc.
Let's be clear: I do not plan on sharing any of my dreams with you! But I want to tell you that this book, quirky as it is, actually has some great things to say about writing and how it works. I am learning a lot as I read.
Here are some examples:
- Isabel Allende: Maybe I'm a writer because I'm desperately trying to clean up my mess. Here's another one: Without my demons what will I write about?
- Maya Angelou: I do believe dreams have a function. I don't see anything that has no function, not anything that has been created. I may not understand its function or be able to to even use it, make it utile, but I believe it has a reason.
- John Barth (I have never heard of him either): Those rituals of getting ready to write seem to conduce a kind of trance state.
- Richard Ford: I'm trying to cause people to be interested in the particulars of their lives because I think that that's one thing literature can do for us. It can say to us: pay attention. Pay closer attention. Pay stricter attention to what you say to your son. Pay stricter attention to what you say to someone you love.
- Sue Grafton: As I write I keep a journal for each novel that I work on... I'm finding now that some of the freest writing I do is in the journal because psychologically that feels like playtime.
- Spalding Gray: So what I had the students do first was to speak their stories, their autobiographic story, into a tape recorder. Then I'd have them transcribe it and begin to work on making the transcription like writing. My theory was, and it works, that they will find their personal voice in that way because it is their voice. (Is that brilliant or what??)
- Allan Gurganus: Writing is a kind of free fall that you then go back and edit and shape. I think the best things that I've ever got as a writer come frequently all in a burst.
- James W. Hall: There's this romantic picture of writers, sometimes, that you either are going to be a great writer or have a great life. And you have to choose one or the other. I don't think that's true for me. I don't believe that that has to be an either-or choice. But you have to consciously decide that. You can't let your ordinary life drift and just sink into the creative world all the time.
That last one is perhaps the greatest advice for me. I will never forget, after having spent several academic quarters plowing through Coleridge (opium addict, bipolar), Hemingway (shot his head off), Fitzgerald (drank himself to death), Sylvia Plath (suicide), et cetera et cetera, coming to the conclusion that I could never be a great writer because I was simply too normal! I have operated under that assumption for nearly thirty years. So Hall's statement is a gift.
Consider tracking this book down on half.com or finding it in your library. It's worth the time, in my opinion. I'm only about halfway through it, so you may be hearing from me again on this subject...