Still Writing (Dani Shapiro)

Still Writing falls somewhere between Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open and Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. It contains some concrete advice and some general musings, some straight talk and some philosophizing.

Her tone is conversational and at times the narrative feels very personal. She says, for instance: “If I’m not writing, my heart hardens, rather than lifts.” Perhaps that isn’t true for every writer but it speaks to me.

Not every line has an immediate or intense resonance for me, however. I feel less of a connection to this description of the process: “The page turns from us like a wounded lover. We will have to win it over, coax it out of hiding. Promise to do better next time. Apologize for our disregard. And then, we settle into the pattern that we know.”

But Dani Shapiro combines a personal response with more commonplace observations of the writing life.

“So what is it about writing that makes it – for some of us – as necessary as breathing? It is in the thousands of days of trying, failing, sitting, thinking, resisting, dreaming, raveling, unraveling that we are at our most engaged, alert, and alive. Time slips away.”

Sometimes she offers straightforward advice:

“Act as if you are a writer. Sit down and begin. Act as if you might just create something beautiful, and by beautiful I mean something authentic and universal. Don’t wait for anybody to tell you it’s okay. Take that shimmer and show us our humanity. That’s your job.”

She is well aware of the standard pitfalls and challenges and issues direct warnings:

“We are commuting inward. And on Monday mornings – or after a long holiday, a summer vacation, any time we have been away from the page – we have to be even more vigilant about that commute. We are traveling to that place inside ourselves – so small as to be invisible – where we are free to roam and play.”

At times, her language is strikingly simple: “Word after word, sentence after sentence, we build our writing lives.”

Is this really a helpful statement? Perhaps not for every writer. But as someone who has spent more time resisting the simple act of writing a sentence, I find simple directives useful.

“Who would ever be in the mood to write?” she asks. And, then, she sends you to your desk.

Good stuff for writers!

Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013

[Note I added this to my reading list thanks to Alexis Kienlen, whose comment on GoodReads convinced me that I should give it a try.]

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