Dani Shapiro says she has been writing all her life and when she wasn't writing, she was reading. When she wasn't writing or reading, she was staring out the window, lost in thought. From many years of experience, Shapiro has lots of wise advice. She also has many stories from her own life which she blends into this remarkable memoir on the writing life.
When we see writers appear on the Today show or being interviewed by Oprah, both of which have happened for Shapiro, we think they somehow live more privileged lives. Shapiro's honesty about her life reveals she's like the rest of us, facing the very real challenges of modern interruptions and overload along with daily tasks.
Still Writing is divided into three parts: "Beginnings," "Middles" and "Ends." Within each part are short essays, usually with one-word titles.
"The writing life requires courage, patience, persistence, empathy, openness, and the ability to deal with rejection. It requires the willingness to be alone with oneself," says Shapiro in the introduction. She's also learned from over twenty years of writing and teaching: "To be gentle with oneself."
Shapiro believes when she was young, straining to hear her parents' conversations, she was beginning her literary education. She says she was "highly attuned" to her mother and could feel and sense her moods. "She was my first lesson in character and point of view."
People who do puzzles of various kinds "build a corner." Shapiro recommends the same thing when beginning a piece of writing to "anchor yourself somewhere" on the page" with one detail. I definitely related to this advice when it comes to puzzles, crossword or jigsaw, and to writing.
Although Shapiro has been successful in terms of publishing five novels, two memoirs, and articles in various publications, including the New Yorker, she feels more rewarded by the doing. Holding the book or the magazine pieces in one's hands is a moment that is "curiously hollow," she says. "It can't live up to the sweat, the solitude, the bloody battle that it represents."
In the section entitled "Permission," Shapiro advises: "There is no magical place of arrival. There is only the solitary self facing the page. " We give permission to ourselves to write what we are called to write."
Under the heading of "Habit," Shapiro says: "I sit down every day at around the same time and put myself in the path of inspiration . . . " That's how she responds when people says she must be so "disciplined." She feels it is her job and finds: "So much can be accomplished in one focused hour, especially when that hour is part of a routine, a sacred rhythm that becomes part of your daily life."
In the section entitled "Rhythm," Shapiro recommends having a pattern of a particular number of pages or words a day. "It doesn't matter what deal you strike with yourself as long as you keep up your end of it."
As for exposure when it comes to writing about one's life, as always, from experience, Shapiro says: "It will connect you with others. With the world around you. With yourself."
Now I'm going to start reading Still Writing all over again, savoring honest words from a fellow writer.
Dani Shapiro is the bestselling author of the memoirs Devotion and Slow Motion, and five novels. She has taught in the writing programs at Columbia, NYU, The New School, and Wesleyan University. She is a cofounder of the Sirenland Writers Conference in Positano, Italy. Visit her website.
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