Today I was working again with Julia Cameron‘s The Right to Write, and the exercise was all about “freestyling” on the topics and genres that would be fun to write about if you were just writing for the enjoyment of the process and not the end goal. Of course writing should be a joy – those of us who want to be writers know this, and yet – as Cameron points out – we often get in our own way by judging our output while it’s happening, instead of just letting the words and ideas flow on to the page.
In her other book, The Artist’s Way, Cameron discusses the idea of “taking dictation.” What if creative thought was a shared pool, and we could all dip a toe (or a bucket, or a horse trough) into it and pull out what we want? Would that free up our mind and loosen the process? What if we realized that we don’t have reinvent the wheel every time we sit down at the page? What if we treated a blank slate like a close friend, excitedly anticipating the juicy tidbit you promised to tell over lunch?
I remember reading somewhere about a writer (and forgive me, because this could have been a fictional character rather than a real person, but the point’s the same either way…) who was so intimidated by a blank sheet of paper, that he (or she) decided to write one sentence across the top – “this is not a blank page” – before ever starting. After that, the bare space wasn’t so intimidating….it had been tamed by those words.
Back to The Right to Write, when I tackled the task of listing the genres that interest me, I realized that for me it’s more about the writer – and the way they tell the story – than the genre. I’m not a genre snob – I like everything from the dreaded “chic lit” to sci-fi to poetry to the old “standards” that every self-resepcting English major (or wannabe) has on their shelf. I love Jane Austin and William Gibson and Anne McCaffrey and EE Cummings – but my style and my stories are nothing like the ones they tell. But they do open up new worlds to me; give me the chance to see things and people and places in a different light, with a different accent and a different point of view.
So what do you think? Do our favorite writers indicate where our own writing should be headed? Or are they just cheerful (or wise and knowning) bystanders encouraging us as we write down our own path?