The Right to Write


As part of the Wordsmith Studio Goodreads group, I have been reading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write.  I think I’ve fallen in love 🙂

Cover of "The Right to Write: An Invitati...

Cover via Amazon

Julia’s philosophy of writing is something that I’ve aspired to for years and I think that I’ll be referring to her book for some time.  The book has an organic quality to it that I admire.

What follows are the gems I mined from Cameron’s book, and all the credit for them must, of course, go to the author.

Gems:

Introduction
“Writing has for thirty plus years been my constant companion, my lover, my friend, my job, my passion, and what I do with myself and the world I live in.  Writing is how, and it sometimes seems why, I do my life.”
“Our ‘writing life’ … cannot be separated from our life as a whole.”
“… 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 …”

Begin

“It’s a luxury to be in the mood to write.”
“… writing is like a good pair of pyjamas …”

Let yourself write

“We have an incredible amount of mystery, mystique, and pure bunk around exactly what [becoming a writer] means.”
“When we just let ourselves write, we get it ‘right.’”

Let yourself listen

“Writing is about getting something down, not about thinking something up.”

The time lie

“The myth that we must have ‘time’—more time—in order to create is a myth that keeps us from using the time we do have.”

Laying track

“For the first time, I gave myself emotional permission to do rough drafts and for those drafts to be, well, rough.”
“Writing—and this is the big secret—wants to be written.”

Bad writing

“Bad writing—when it’s good—is like New York street pizza.  Sometimes it’s a little too crusty.  Sometimes it’s a little soggy, but the tang is undeniable.  It has flavor.  Spice.  Juice.”

This writing life

“I have crawled out of lovers’ beds to sneak off and write.”

“There is a great happiness in letting myself write.  I don’t always do it well, or need to, but I do need to do it.”
“Writing is alchemy.”

Mood

“All of us have a sex drive.  All of us have a drive to write.”
“Writing may be an art, but it is certainly a craft.  It is a simple and workable thing that can be as steady and reliable as a chore—does that ruin the romance?”

Drama

“Keep the drama on the page.”
“Keeping the drama on the page is ruthless, enlightened self-interest.”

The wall of infamy

“… I advocate writing for revenge.  I advocate writing ‘to show them.’  You turn the dross of your disappointments into the gold of accomplishment.”

Valuing our experience

“Seeking to value ourselves, we look to others for assurance.  If what we are doing threatens them, they cannot give it.  If what we envision is larger than they can see, they cannot give support for what it is we are doing.”
“Valuing our experience is not narcissism.  It is not endless self-involvement.  It is, rather, the act of paying active witness to ourselves and to our world.”

Specificity

“One thing at a time, one thought, one word at a time.  That is how a writing life is built.”
“Detail allows us to communicate precisely what we mean.”

Body of experience

“Because we think of writing as something disembodied and cerebral, because we ‘think’ of writing rather than notice that what we do with it is meet or encounter it, we seldom realize that writing, like all art, is embodied experience.”
“True knowledge, authentic knowledge, is something deeper than the mind entertains.”

The well

“Writing is what we make from the broth of our experience.  If we lead a rich and varied life, we will have a rich and varied stock of ingredients from which to draw …”
“Sanity in writing means acknowledging that we are an creative ecosystem and that without fresh inflow and steady outflow the pond of our inner resources can grow stagnant and stale.”

Sketching

“If I see or hear the impulse to put in a tree, I put it in the landscape of what I am writing … the writing itself knows when and how and where it will use it.”
“‘It’s a sort of lucid dreaming where I carry the idea of the story and the Universe delivers to me bits and pieces as I need them.’”

Loneliness

“Not writing is the lonely thing.  Not writing creates self-obsession.  Self-obsession blocks connection with others … with the self.  Writing is like an inner compass.  We check in and we get our bearings.”

Witness

“What writing brings to life is clarity and tenderness.  Writing, we witness ourselves.”

“Why don’t we do it in the road?”

“People who write from discipline … 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.”

Connection

“Writing is a way not only to metabolize life but to alchemize it as well.  It is a way to transform what happens to us into our own life experience.  It is a way to move from passive to active.  We may still be the victims of circumstance, but by our understanding of those circumstances we place events within the ongoing context of our own life, that is, the life we ‘own.’”

Being an open channel

“When writing dominates a life, relationships suffer—and not coincidentally, so does the writing.”
“Although we seldom talk about it in these terms, writing is a means of prayer.  It connects us to the invisible world.”

Integrating

“The root of the word ‘integration’ is the smaller word ‘integer,’ which means ‘whole.’  Too often, racing through life, we become the ‘hole,’ not ‘whole.’”

Credibility

“Based on the idea that writing is product, not process, the credibility attack wants to know just what credits you’ve amassed lately.  The mere act of writing, the fact of which makes you a writer, counts for nothing with this monster.”

Place

“The accumulation of details, the willingness to be specific and precise, the willingness to ‘place’ a piece of writing accurately in context—all of these things make for writing that a reader can connect to.”

Happiness

“It is my belief that writing is a way to bless and to multiply out blessings.”
“Writing is a form of cherishing.”

Making it

“The universe is not, to my eye, a cruel and capricious place.  I believe that our desire to write is a deep-seated human need to communicate and that it is answered by an equally powerful human drive to be communicated to.  In other words, for every writer there is a reader—or many readers.”

Honesty

“Writing is about honesty.  It is amost impossible to be hinest and boring at the same time.”

Vulnerability

“Vulnerability in writing is the enemy of grandiosity … of pomposity.  It is the enemy of posturing; the enemy of denial … Vulnerability is writing health, and health—as I can assure you—can be a scary-feeling experience for some of us.”
“Vulnerability, which is honesty’s shy younger sister, is the part of ourselves that renders un capable of great art, art that enters and explores the heart.”

Dailiness

“Writing is the act of motion.  Writing is the commitment to move forward, not to stew in our own juices, to become whatever it is that we are becoming.”
“Reality happens in daily doses.  Life lived a day at a time is life made much of.”

Voice

“Writing from the body—dropping down into the well of your experience and sounding out how you feel—ultimately yields a body of work.  We say that a voice is full-bodied without realizing that this is a literal phrase: when we write from our gut rather than from our head we acquire the same resonance that a singer does when the breath comes from the diaphragm rather than high up in the chest.”

Form versus formula

“… joie de vivre, … kick-in-the-pants power comes when we allow form to triumph over formula.  In other words, when we trust that writing ‘live’ has a real and valid life to it.”

Footwork

“It is a spiritual maxim that God never closes one door without opening another.  It is a spiritual joke that while this may be true, the hallway in between is murder.  When we are ‘stuck’ in our writing lives, it is usually because we are clinging to a situation that has outlived its usefulness to us or we are unwilling to explore a new risk that we sense we really must take.”

Practice

“Practice means what it says: writing is something to be done over and over, something that improves through the repetitive doing but that needs not be done perfectly. … Consistency is the key to mastering the instrument that is you.”

Containment

“Showing our writing to hostile or undiscerning readers is like lending money to people with terrible fiscal pasts.  We will not be repaid as we wish.”
“We must write from love and we must choose those to read us who read from love: the love of words.”

Sound

“We talk about the writing voice but seldom about the importance of literal sounds in the sound it makes.”
We talk about music in writing but we seldom focus on the music all around us.”

I would live to write, but …

“We want official validation that we are ‘really’ writers.  The truth is, we need to give that permission, that validation, ourselves.”

Driving

“I have a drive to write and I do drive to write. … the art of writing devours images and … if I am going to write deeply, frequently, and well, I must keep my inner pond of images very well stocked.  When I want to restock my images, I get behind the wheel of my car.”

Roots

“… writing benefits from other commitments.  Writing responds well to some gentle scheduling.  A day job not only promotes solvency, it promotes creativity as well.”

ESP

“It is my belief that all of us are naturally intuitive and that writing opens an inner spiritual doorway that gives us access to information both personally and professionally that serves us well.  I call this information ‘guidance’ …”

Cheap tricks

“… the part of me that writes in young, vulnerable, and easily swayed. … I use a lot of cheap tricks to bribe my writer into production.”

Stakes

“In writing, stakes are a question of clarity and empathy.  As writers, we must make it very clear what our characters stand to lose or gain so that our readers, encountering these stakes, can feel empathy and care about the outcome.”

Procrastination

“Writers procrastinate so that when they finally get to writing, they can get past the censor.”

Into the water

Julia’s prescription of morning pages, a narrative time line, and cups.  You’ll have to read the book to find out what these are.

The right to write

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

These are only a few of the gems I could have plucked out for you, and all of them are of a similar nature.  If you are inspired or intrigued in any way by these, go grab the book.  Go on now!  Give yourself a lovely gift for Christmas.  Or suggest it to a loved one.

Cameron includes exercises at the end of each chapter and it forms a kind of writer’s rehab.  The Right to Write is, if nothing else, Cameron’s attempt to heal the injured and encourage the aspiring writer.

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6 thoughts on “The Right to Write

  1. I find it always good for me to read Julia. I love that you created this list of gems, Melanie. Not in the Goodreads group, but I did read some in The Right to Write just this week.

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    • You know, I really didnt think I would. I too have had the book on my shelf awaiting reading forever. So glad the goodreads group tackled it, otherwise, I would never have found this kindred spirit 🙂

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    • I read with whatever’s at hand. Just so happened I was reading at work (on break, of course), and the highlighter was right there! So I plucked out the bits that really seemed to summarize the section for me.

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