I’ve been dusting off my Goodreads shelves, finding myself going in to add a few new books here and there. To shelve some that have been in “currently reading” purgatory for ages. I gave Goodreads a break, but often when I received a notification that a friend had read a book I loved (or planned to read), I wanted to talk about it. I remembered why I liked the site to begin with, which is exactly what more mindful internet time is supposed to do, right?
I recently received galleys from the publishers of Meredith Maran’s Why We Write and Hilma Wolitzer’s The Company of Writers and soaked them in. It was as close to being back in school as I’d felt in a long time. Minus the homework.
I adore reading about writing. Talking about writing. Screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction. A few years out of college, I began to realize how much I missed having those conversations daily. Not work-related ones but writing for the love/hate of writing ones. I missed the writing workshops and the critiques. Reactions were exciting – good or bad – with good always preferable, of course. If there was an opinion to be shared, it meant someone was listening. We write for ourselves, yes, but we long to know if our stories are worth telling.
I could never find anything quite like it once I left school. Close but not the same. Perhaps it was because we were all in the same boat then. We all believed our lives were just beginning, confident we’d write the Great American Novel, get the three picture deal, stories in The New Yorker or VOGUE shortly. We were critical but so confident. In ourselves and each other.
I have a heavy shelf of books on the topic of writers on writing, some well dog-eared, like The Creative Habit and The Writer’s Chapbook from The Paris Review, I keep to revisit. These two new ones are keepers.
“I just show up in front of the computer. Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too,” Isabel Allende explains in Why We Write. Maran’s book is a bit like Proust’s Questionnaire – twenty writers answering questions about the highs and lows, the best and worst parts about the writing life. Like the Writers At Work interviews from The Paris Review, which I love, they offer a glimpse of the creative habit. (I love that Sara Gruen is also a fan of using Freedom to remove the lure of the web while at her computer.)
I found it fascinating the way Jennifer Egan considered the possible implications winning the Pulitzer could have on her work, “the very public moments…the opposite of the very private pleasure of writing.” I think many will be curious about the interview with James Frey, which Maran prefaces with “Meet James Frey. Judge for yourself. Or better yet, learn from his experience…and don’t judge him at all.”
Wolitzer’s Company is a handbook for creating a writer’s group, of which she has led many, but also offers a ton of great wisdom as a personal workbook, too. First published about a decade ago, it’s just been released as an eBook. (Only connect..this publisher also released the BlogHer Voices of the Year anthology I was part of.)
In the best of ways, Wolitzer reminded me of an inspiring professor I had in college, an essayist and playwright who passed away some years ago. I’ve been writing less fiction for some time, and I’m missing it terribly. The chapter entitled “Stuck” was particularly poignant, and I loved the advice she relayed, especially that of Amy Tan (who appears in Maran’s book, too – as does novelist Meg Wolitzer, the author’s daughter). With many virtually dog eared pages, this is one I know I’ll revisit often for both its practical advice and its inspired collection of quotes and interviews with other writers.
Reading about writing reminds me that shifting gears between genres, not only nonfiction to fiction, but social media to print, is tricky. But the advice in these books I found encouraging, and they left me excited to carve the space to make room for what I love, and maybe even find a writing group again.