Reading has “fed” me and made me feel “all right,” since I was a young girl. I needed some books in the last weeks to pep me up when I returned from our January residency. My bronchitis dragged on and on, and Claire was a glum girl, lying on the couch instead of writing. I loved reading my dear Alaskan friend Deb Vanasse’s first adult novel Cold Spell, especially since I know the backstory of her writing life and the Alaskan setting. But I could only skim her other one: What Every Author Should Know: No Matter What You Publish. It’s chock full of helpful information. But learning about the changing world of publishing didn’t help to get me writing.
While searching online about writers and procrastination, I came across a quote from this book: Writing Past Dark: Envy,Fear Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life. Like most writers my shelves are filled with craft books and books about the writing life. But I’d never seen this one by Bonnie Friedman. A quote from our fiction guru Janet Burroway convinced me to get a copy: “If you think writing is a lonely task and you can afford one book, buy this one.”
I was so taken with Friedman’s introduction that I started underlining it (until I remembered it was a library book.) Her introduction and ending chapter featured the meatiest material:
“Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties.”
“Because they are waiting, they do not write as hard as they can. And because they assume someday writing will feel different from the way it does now, they squander many true gifts. . . . that when they are successes they will be entitled to take time from family or take more risks, their doubts will be rinsed away, they will know their work’s importance . . . When they are successes they will deserve to be happy.”
“I live in dread that the story I am currently writing resembles those that have been rejected . . . it feels as if my new writing comes from the exact same place. . . Yet our finest writing will certainly come from who we already are and how we already write.” (p. 146)
“To love our lives right now – that is the transformative success. To see what is already beautiful – that is what is the astonishing strength.”
Of course it’s not as easy as that. We have to relearn every day how to love the work. Rereading and thinking about Friedman’s insights finally got me off the couch, and back to my work. But if all if this is just too heavy to think about right now, try this fun and brilliant book: Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature (Bird, Danielson, Sieruta).
Now that I’ve got my inner writing life all figured out and happiness reigns, I’m working on inserting more mischief in life and writing. But first I am cheering for my Gonzaga basketball teams – both the women and the men’s teams made it into the Sweet Sixteen during March Madness, along with MFAC alum Elizabeth Schoenfeld’s Duke Blue Devils and MFAC alum Randall Bonser’s Michigan State team. All three of us have been inspired to put in good writing time before every game. According to our beloved Kate DiCamillo that means two hours or two pages a day. We can do that, right?
Claire Rudolf Murphy is the author of seventeen books of fiction and nonfiction for children and young adults, including Children of Alcatraz: Growing Up on the Rock; Daughters of the Desert: Remarkable Women of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions; Marching With Aunt Susan:Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage; and her latest, My Country Tis of Thee: Song of Patriotism, Song of Protest.
Claire's 17th book, Martin and Bobby: A Journey to Justice will be published in September of 2018 during the fiftieth year commemoration of King and Robert Kennedy's tragic deaths in 1968. Recent events have renewed her passion for political activism and preparing her presentation on theme helped her deepen her theme in this upcoming book and other current projects.