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The Final Chapter: If Writing Becomes Your Heart

August 3, 2015

Over the course of the summer, I’ve talked to lots of people about their writing goals.  I think it’s safe to say that we have a wide range of goals. For some, it’s publication, maybe even fame and fortune; others of us want to find at least a small group with whom we can share our writing or our writing life; others just want to find the time and motivation to get some things down in writing for ourselves.

In this last chapter, McClanahan distinguishes between writing as a career and writing as “a way of life.” I have found that whenever I tried to make a career out of something I enjoyed for pleasure, I rarely succeeded and I extinguished my joy. Most of the writers I admire have had “day jobs.”  So many are teachers, but there are others who had completely different professions.  Ted Kooser, former U. S. Poet Laureate, worked in the insurance industry but work about 3 a.m. every day to write.  William Carlos Williams was a physician (who made house calls where he notice shiny red wheelbarrows.) Even Shakespeare had his living as an actor and theatre part-owner, not as a writer. (Where were copyright laws when he needed them?)

Part I:  McClanahan notes on page 199 that if you aren’t finding time for writing in your life, you have to make changes. You must either change your writing “to fit your life,” or you can “postpone the writing until circumstances change” or you can “revise your life.”

Which makes the most sense to you right now and why?

Do you agree that “no one actually has time to write, each writer must make the time”?

Someone in my writing group had her own version of McClanahan’s “Got to the desk….” dictum.  Her prescription we call B.F.A.–you have to put your Big Fat A** in the chair and write. Once you work through your excuses for not writing, what might encourage you to make time to show up at the desk?

Part II: Breakthroughs

I found the discussion of Rolla May’s breakthrough theory intriguing.  Think back to your writing or other creative ventures.  When have you had those kinds of breakthroughs?  How can you make yourself ready for them?

We considered in one of the early chapters all the reasons we don’t write.  Have you been able to recognize your own delaying tactics?  What–besides technology–has you conditioned to be distracted?

I think we all must acknowledge that life can get in the way.  Sometimes we aren’t just making excuses; we are in survival mode or celebration mode.  When those times come, give yourself a pass.  Sure, journal if you can. Writing can help you process both the joys and the sorrows. But realize that during these times, you are gathering material for later.

Part III: Reading Like a Writer

I couldn’t agree more with McClanahan that when she says writers must read. I admit that sometimes when I read a great piece of literature, I am overwhelmed, realizing, “I can’t ever do that.”  But I believe that reading good writing helps us to get into the rhythm of language.  I loved the idea that literature is “an antidote to the babble” around us (204).

Whose writing do you admire most?

Do you read in the genre you want to write?

I have heard of authors who wrote out by hand an entire novel they admired.  Whose words would you like to feel beneath your fingers?

What do you notice when you slow down and pay attention to the writing of a book or story or poem you love?

What do you plan to read next?

Part IV: Now what?

You’ve explored the idea of Writing Your Heart Out. Have you found any quotes in this book–or other places–that you should pin up over your desk?  I particularly liked the one from Audre Lorde: “It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.”

What steps do you recognize that you need to take as you hone your writing craft? Are there issues of grammar or mechanics that trouble you?  Do you find yourself overusing certain patterns?  Do you need to be more concise or more detailed?

What goals do you have for your writing once the book is closed?

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