Julia Cameron recounts the story of a writing teacher and aspiring novelist who had been putting off writing his novel for years, telling himself it would come when he took a sabbatical. “What’s wrong with now?” she asked him.
“I don’t have time. I teach writing. I sit there and watch my students write.”
“So write while they’re writing. Stop making it such a major production. Just scribble a few things while they do.”
It is Cameron’s belief that these lies we tell ourselves – our “if onlys” – stem from envy, and from the belief that others have “simpler, better funded, more conducive to writing” lives than our own. “If only…” we were them, then “they” could stop wishing they were us. I think that it may stem as much from fear as from envy: fear that we won’t be any good at it. So long as we keep shoving writing onto the back burner, we can keep fantasizing about having written a book. Or, more to the point, about being an acclaimed best-selling author who has written and published a book. Reality is often something a bit less, but it is at least real.
If only we’d write the damned book, we might discover that for ourselves.
If I were told I had only twenty-four hours to live, I’d probably waste half of it standing there in shock, mouth gaping, wondering what to do next. When you have only 24 hours to live, everything suddenly seems critically important – or not nearly as important as you’d imagined it would seem, under the circumstances. But every moment spent trying to put all the “if onlys” in their proper order is a wasted moment that could have been spent knocking items off the bucket list.
I seem to have lost the knack for what Cameron refers to as “dropping down the well,” and that is key to making this work. The well, for me, materializes when I invoke it – with the right setting, usually in my recliner or my favorite desk, after somehow getting into the right frame of mind, and, of course, with a good cup of coffee in hand. But back in college, “the well” was a diner, a dimly-lit coffee shop, or a snow-covered picnic table outside the University’s Student Union the week I discovered the joy of woolen, fingerless gloves. “The well” could open up the minute the seat-back tray table dropped on a flight. “The well” could be anywhere.
I think years of cubicles and desks left grooves and ruts in my brain, and “the well” now flows into them in sluggish, orderly corridors.
Cameron says that it comes with practice, and I will keep a notebook and pen handy this week, to make a point of trying to steal a few minutes here and there for writing, to see if I can’t invoke “the well” at will.
Savoring the Moments
Cameron points out that when “we describe our environments, we begin to savor them.” I imagine that’s because writers have trained to explore, in words, using all of our senses. We pay attention to each in turn, and we don’t jumble it all up in a mental flash. We savor the moments.
Write with Me
The book’s “Initiation Tool” for this chapter is to buy five postcards and stamps. Gather up the addresses of five people you love but don’t take time to stay in touch with. Set the clock for fifteen minutes, and using two to three minutes per card, write out loving greetings to your friends and mail them.
Another suggestion: Keep a notebook and pen handy all week, and whenever you find yourself with a few minutes (literally – a few!) start scribbling a sentence or two, a paragraph, a poem – by week’s end, report back here what you’ve got in your notebook. Feel free to type it up and share it, or just describe it in the comments here.
Latest posts by HollyJahangiri (see all)
- A Brand New Blog with a Fresh Perspective! - September 15, 2017
- If We Were Having Coffee, I’d Tell You to #WriteBravely… - August 12, 2017
- A Taste of Home for the Next Generation (Interview with Sapna Anu George) - August 9, 2017