“Nuns at a Calder Show, Los Angeles” photographed by Imogen Cunningham when she was 70
I was on public transportation the other day when two women—neither of them young, but both of them younger than I—sat down on the seat behind me. They didn’t hesitate to use their outdoor voices on the train, so consequently I learned that one of them is writing a novel, and the other envies her friend and wishes she could do the same.
However, she said, she’s too old to start now.
For any of our wonderful followers who might feel the same, or who know others who might feel the same, let me first draw your attention to Ida Pollack, who had a book out to her editor for revisions when she was 105. Helen Hooven Santmyer hit The New York Times best seller list and became a celebrity at 88 for her novel . . . And Ladies of the Club. And Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first of the “Little House” books, Little House in the Big Woods, when she was 65 and the last one when she was 76.
Clearly, as long as you’re not dead, you’re not too old to write a novel.
But the conversation between these two friends on the train made me think about the writing life—a slow and often tedious process filled with (sometimes years of) revisions and then years of submitting and rejections before the hopeful author finds the editor of his/her dreams. Continue reading
People like rituals. Some sports stars don’t wash their lucky socks during the season, or always eat the same meal before a game. Actors tell each other to break a leg. Spiritualists burn sage to cleanse a room of evil spirits.
Writers have their rituals, too. They sharpen their pencils and line them up. They crack open a new notebook. They put on the same playlist while working.
There’s a kind of magic that comes with habitually picking up a favorite pen or sitting down every day at sunrise (or moonrise, take your pick). Ritual is emotional preparation. It sets the stage for accomplishment and entices your muse to dance across it. Sometimes when things don’t go well, ritual can trick you into cooperating. But not always. Because ritual is tangential to actually writing, it doesn’t always work.
I recently stumbled on an ambient noise website (Ambient Mixer) and found it helpful in my creative process. It blocked out the death rattle on our aging Advatium oven, the scritching and scratching of our highly allergic dog, and other aural distractions. I started to dig around for more sites that might have other ambient mixers that I could use and stumbled on a research study from 2012. Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition (Mehta, R., Zhu, R., & Cheema, A. (2012). Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(4), 784-799). I’ll start with the conclusion:
“Results from five experiments demonstrate that a moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks and increases the buying likelihood of innovative products. A high level of noise (85 dB), on the other hand, hurts creativity. Process measures reveal that a moderate (vs. low) level of noise increases processing difficulty, inducing a higher construal level [physiological distance] and thus promoting abstract processing, which subsequently leads to higher creativity. A high level of noise, however, reduces the extent of information processing and thus impairs creativity.” Continue reading
In many ways, writing is like working out. The more you do it, the easier it is, and the more stamina you have. On the flip side, when you stop working out, it’s a bitch to get back into it again.
One of my New Years Resolutions was to get moving for 30 minutes a day. Aside from not writing, I’ve also been neglecting myself, and I decided, after reading this stunning NY Times article about how much of your LIFE you can lose by being inactive, that I needed to Continue reading
We Ladies are all writers. Some of us have more years of life experience than others among us, some of us have been writing for more years than others among us, also, but none of us are wet-behind-the-ears young. But we write. Every now and then there are articles, blog posts, 8LW conversations about ageism and age discrimination in the writing industry. Some writers wrote for a long time before getting published. Some didn’t start writing until later in life.
And for every article/post/conversation about ageism, there is one about how young a writer was when he/she got started. I was reading about Chaim Potok today (a clue in today’s NY Times Crossword – yes, I cheated and googled where he went to college, because, honestly, who actually knows that kind of stuff). He started writing fiction at 16. At 17, he made his first submission. It was rejected, but by 20 he was published and went on to achieve literary greatness. Continue reading
Władysław Podkowiński (1866-1865)
Every day that I describe (okay, complain) about my various writing blockages or my inability to move my manuscript forward, there’s a small place in the back of my brain that reminds me how lucky I am that I have the time, the space, and the quiet to write essentially as much as I want. When I have a good writing day, all is right in my world. But even a bad day writing—when nothing works and I delete 1,000 words for every 100 that I add to my manuscript—is still a better day than a day spent at the office.
But my bad writing days are nothing compared to those of some military vets, for whom writing can be a testimonial to life itself, an “act of survival,” as one vet described it. More returning soldiers are discovering that writing can ease re-entry in several ways: their narratives can help explain their experiences to friends and family (between 2001 and 2014, 2.7 million service members deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan; that’s less than 1% of the population), and it can help them cope with trauma and PTSD.
However, for some vets, writing about their wartime experiences means peeling back layers of memory and pain that can amplify the symptoms it’s meant to diminish. Ex-soldiers can be unprepared for the trauma—or not know how to manage it.
The article “War of Words” has a lot more to say about vets and the writing they do to corral their demons and make sense of what they experienced. I don’t want to paraphrase it: the writers can describe how they feel and why they write more powerfully than I.
One of the things that several of us 8L have said over the last months is that we won’t buy anymore craft books/take anymore craft classes until we have finished what we already have. In that vein, I did eeny-meeny on my craft bookshelf and chose The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes, almost at random (because I have too many to choose from). The very first chapter is called Elements of Courage. It made me feel strong just reading that. There are some funny sections throughout the book like Page Fright, That Naked Feeling, Counterphobia, and Draft Dodgers. Continue reading