Conjuring Shakespeare’s Sister

Last month Jessica wrote about her struggle to read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. She never did make it through the whole text—and unless you are the worst kind of nerdy English major, it is a tedious read. Nevertheless, she found that in her middle age she had gained an appreciation for Woolf’s central point:

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write.

Because I am that worst sort of English major—one who attended a small liberal arts college in the countryside and lazed away the hours in the local cafe reading, drinking black coffee, and smoking cheap cigarettes—Jessica’s post inspired me to try and reread Woolf’s treatise. I wanted to see if my 43 year old writing self would respond to her arguments differently than did my 20 year old self.

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Write About It, If You Dare

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” ― Oscar Wilde

Write about it.

Want to be liked? Get ready to relegate yourself to last place. Get ready to spend your hours studying what pleases people and then more minutes, hours, days to dedicate your life to doing that, the thing everyone likes. Last-place-people work hard. The pathological need for external approval is silencing us.

Write about that pathology.

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My Practice Went A Little Awry

“There is a ruthlessness to the creative act. It often involves a betrayal of the status quo.” ―Alan Watt

I have a few habits that prepare my thoughts for my writing time. I’m lucky to have two weekday mornings every week that I can write until 10 am. I wake up early and get started before the movement of the house begins. I take advantage of being an early riser on the weekends as well and I use that quiet time the same way: meditation and writing, for a total of four days/week. Sometimes I’m pleased with the work, other times it’s words and words of unused drafts. All part of the learning curve of finding and expressing my voice.

Over the summer I noticed I was becoming a little particular with my ritual. What started out as a cup of coffee and a quick meditation became an indecisive time-consuming mess robbing me of words on the page.

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Being Real—In Life and in Writing

When I was in elementary school, my mom and I lived with my grandparents for a few years. Each morning, I would wake in my daybed and tiptoe, pajama-clad, out to the second-story landing overlooking the living room, dining room, and the breakfast bar of my grandparents’ large kitchen. Down below, there they were: sitting in the dark on stools at the breakfast bar, sipping coffee from matching white porcelain coffee cups and talking in low murmurs. Eventually, the sun would rise and light would fill the whole first story of the house. My mom and I would join them for breakfast. The TV eventually would be turned on to catch a glimpse of the morning news, traffic, and weather reports.

But for my grandparents, the morning started with stillness, darkness, conversation, and coffee. Since my parents divorced when I was a toddler, my grandparents were my model of an adult relationship. I wanted that: a partner to start the morning with, over coffee, in the dark, until sunlight flooded the house.

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On Quitting: A Writer’s Dilemma

For several years I have been working on versions of an essay titled “Why I Quit School,” and now it has become my memoir project. From the moment I stepped into my kindergarten classroom to the moment I walked out of my university office for the last time, I’ve had a tortured relationship with formal education. Instinctually, I knew its obsession with compliance, uniformity, and competition was antithetical to real learning and growth, but I couldn’t keep myself from participating, from trying to show my classmates and teachers I could could excel within the system while giving it the finger at the same time. At times I succeeded, but ultimately the battle I was waging exhausted me and I had to walk away.

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Where We Write: Claiming, Then Reclaiming My Space

I tried to read Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” years ago while on a spiritual retreat in the San Jacinto Mountains of California. In my early 20s, I believed it was required reading for a good feminist. Sliding that thin book off the shelf among all the other options, I felt like an actual grown-up woman, anticipating the wisdom I was about to receive.

Here’s the thing, though: I could not get into it. And I tried. But it was: (a) boring, and (b) irrelevant to my life. A year post-college, I had recently moved to Chicago and was crashing in a rundown house with a group of my new co-workers. I was years away from beginning to write, and nothing about my sketchy living arrangement indicated the potential for a closet of my own, much less a whole room.

I have yet to gain an appreciation for Woolf’s style, but as I have aged I’ve certainly come to understand the wisdom behind having a room of one’s own.

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A Writer’s Work Is Never Done

My first book came out two months ago.

I’d always imagined I would write a book one day, but in that way you do when you’re not actually writing. As long as I wasn’t trying, I could cling to the fantasy that at some unspecified future date, when the stars and planets aligned, I would sit down and bust out the Great New Zealand Novel.

I never examined this ambition too closely, because I knew when I did it would shrivel under the harsh glare of scrutiny. For one thing, you have to actually write, preferably every day, to produce a novel. I never did that. For another, you have to have an idea. Any kernel of an idea for a book or even a short story that I could conjure up always seemed staggeringly unoriginal. Very occasionally I might take one of these anaemic ideas and play with it for a while, but before long I would abandon it in frustration, bored and disgusted with my cheesy, derivate prose. My computer is full of these abandoned files – a thousand words there, a thousand words there – which I refuse to open, yet still can’t quite delete. Cringe.

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The Other Side of Silence

Dear Reader,

Amy originally wrote this post for her blog, Elliott’s Provisions, in July of last year after our first writing retreat in California. At that time, a Trump presidency was still only a nightmare we hoped would never come true, and we in this group were still grappling with the struggles, desires, and responsibilities of being a writer. If you are struggling with how to make your writing, your art, meaningful in these violent times, we hope this will help.

In love and solidarity,
The Fixin’ to Write Contributors

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