One of the inspiring young women writers I met last autumn at Ladies' Rock Camp is Holly. You can find a link to her blog on my blogroll. She writes about anything and everything in her blog. A lot of blogs that don't have a specific theme fall flat, but Holly writes so entertainingly that I think she could write about anything and I would read it. Except to get lessons on how to cook, but that's a whole different matter.
Number two on her list of 10 best...things of 2010 was a book called If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. Ueland was a writing teacher in her native Minnesota in the early part of the last century. She published the book in 1938.
If You Want to Write is kind of a self-help book for anyone who wants to unlock their creativity, in writing as well as in other creative disciplines. Ueland's basic premise is that everyone has a story to tell, and that it comes out most truthfully and most interestingly if we write from our "true self."
She provides examples of writing from her classes, achingly beautiful pieces written by ordinary people. People who thought they had nothing to say. People who did not know they could write. Sometimes the writing has been so wonderful that it has brought me to tears, not because it was sad but because it touched me so deeply.
Recently I read another piece of writing that really reminded me of the best examples in Ueland's book from another of the inspiring young women writers from rock camp, Candice. I had read pieces she had written for The Oregonian, but I hadn't known she had a blog as well. It's in my blogroll now. The post entitled Names is the one in which she included the short fiction entry. It's wonderful!
Writing like this affects me so strongly not only because it's so good. It's also because I want so much to be able to write like that. I've wanted it as long as I can remember.
According to Ueland, I should have that kind of writing in me. I just have to get to the right place in order to bring it out. Naturally, with no artiface. Freely. Easier said than done, eh?
I've written some pretty bad stuff in my time. I never learned to write well in school. I think I have one paper from university, and it's an embarrassment. I learned to write when I was working for a magazine, under deadline and getting paid. My writing improved greatly, although I was always a better editor than writer. For a long time I put most of my writing effort into songs, some of which came out pretty well. My journals were always disappointing.
It wasn't until I started blogging that I really felt even a little freed up to write well. For a while, I wrote a blog that chronicled my Second Life, and I was reasonably happy with that. That blog had a focus. I also wrote some decent pieces for an online magazine having to do with sex and sexuality in Second Life. I wrote other blogs and felt even better about my writing. This blog unfortunately has less focus, but I still love to write in it.
Fiction, however, has always eluded me. And so has really writing freely, truthfully, the way Ueland describes. I've never written anything as good as what Candice wrote in her blog, or than what Ueland's students wrote. I'm not as free and funny as Holly, or as good an observer and writer as two more of my rock camp friends (also in the blogroll), Caitlin (The Mundane Details) and my bandmate Vanessa (Play On! Words). My prose is rather, well, prosaic. I'm not sure yet how to break out of that and reach the proper state in which to produce better writing.
Time for yet another class? An adult education course in creative writing perhaps? With someone who can help me break out of the thing that holds me back the most—fear? Yes, fear, my old friend. Great writing is fearless. I'm not particularly fearful, but I have more fears than of sharp objects and falling from a height. One is a fear of writing crap. And that absolutely guarantees that I would write crap if I tried. I need to get past the fear, past the inner critic, and just write. And not care of it's crap, especially at first, because that's part of the process.
After years of tormenting myself, I reached a kind of peace by coming to terms with the realization that I really was not particularly creative. I wanted to be an artist, a creative person, but I wasn't, and I was finally OK with that. But Ueland would say that is crap, and maybe she's right. Maybe it was a false peace that I reached. Maybe it was appeasement. If so, the peace will not endure.