I'm Miriam Peskowitz, author. In thirteen years as a professional writer, I’ve penned obscure academic books. I have written passionately about motherhood in The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, which a few people read. I published The Daring Book for Girls, which spent fourteen weeks on the NY Times Bestsellers List. That trajectory was magical, and surprising, and definitely not something I would have predicted when I began. In those, I've learned much about putting words together, and making those words public.
Thursdays this spring on SheWrites.com, I'll be posting segments of The Daring Writers Guide. The idea of daring will be the big picture framework for thinking about our lives as women writers, and for inspiring us to continue the writerly vision of having voice. Daring is the courage to try out the unknown, to move into unfamiliar spaces. That seems to describe perfectly the conundrums, and the promise, of writing, where each day we seem inevitably to create anew, to step into what’s next. Very little is assured in the writing world, and still we put those words together. Perhaps it was a glimpse of that daring spirit that inspired me, thirteen years ago this spring, in a Malaysian restaurant in Atlanta, to announce out loud that I really, really wanted to be a writer, and somehow,to find the wherewithal to give up a secure job and follow that dream.
So, readers, let the journey of The Daring Writers Guide begin! Welcome to segment 1 of, oh, about sixteen, depending how the spring season goes. The Daring Writers Guide will stream through topics dear to my heart, including:
* Writing amid family ties and children and pulling dinner together every night. * Sustaining our creativity and dreams over the years.
* The physical, bodily act of writing, with insights that come from my new training in bodywork.
* Creativity and my craft of writing nonfiction.
* And much more, all untangled from the interconnected dailyness in which we women, somehow, and despite a long human history that silenced us, find ways to craft and perfect the womanly acts of writing.
Without further ado, thirteen things I've learned in my thirteen writing years.
1. We are all real writers. I know there are all sorts of hierarchies out there. Forget them. Don’t even learn them. Real writers string words together. Period.
2. Writing is exhilarating and writing is boring. I have a talent for sitting still, in the same place, hour after hour, in front of the keyboard, and somehow that gets me through both the exhilarations and the tedium. Whatever is happening out there in the world or in my mind, I can sit still through it. What is your talent for the physical, bodily part of writing?
3. Write while you drive. Seriously. When I get stuck writing, and when my sitting-still talent doesn't save the day, I get into my gas-guzzling, non-eco-friendly, big red mini-van. I make sure there’s a pen and a scrap of paper on the passenger seat, and I drive. Some of my best inspirations and crisis-busting solutions come to me while driving in the car, at which point the paper scrap comes in handy, I pull to the side of the road to write something down, and turn back home.
4. Edit the hell out of what you write. I'm not the first to say this and I won't be the last. It's the truest thing I know about writing. The first draft sucks, and then you edit the hell out of it. You do this again and again and again till something decent emerges. This has happened to me enough times now that it’s no longer surprising. My first drafts are a messy jumble of images and ideas. I am a sculptural writer. I take the messiness and as if it were clay, I sculpt it into shape. That's the artistry of editing.
5. Cultivate solitude.
6. Cultivate connection. The balance between these two can be challenging.
7. Find the stillness and quiet of the moment. There's no other way to write. Breathe in, breathe out, and start putting the words together, without thought of past and future, without even one thought of what anyone else wants or needs. That’s how writing happens for me, when time stops and then, I look up and can't believe that two hours just passed. For me,that is the gloriousness we creative spirits get to experience as our own.
8. Write down your goals. I admit, this is new for me, but it seems to be working, and I'll touch on it later in the Daring Writers Guide. Each week, year, day: whatever you need. In September, mine were these. One, commit to my new book. Two, let it take time. Three, eventually develop a website to go along with it. I added a fourth: Don’t get distracted by every essay idea that comes my way. Writing down goals undoes the anxiety we have about past and future. It gives the anxiety a place to rest for the moment, so it won't get in our way while we try to get into the moment and write. Discard and change your list when you want. Or, ignore this, as I did for many years.
9. The act of stringing together words can seem mundane. Everyone does it. Words are everywhere and it's easy to think, What's the big deal?. Believe me, I’m always, always on the verge of deciding to toss it all away and get a real job. When mundanity looms, marvel at the stunning act of creation that connecting words is. We need to remind ourselves how lucky we are to have even the barest of talents for the creative expression that is possible with letters and words. And that we're part of an amazing generation of women, and that history has never had so many women able to write and find their voice.
10. Make friends with all kinds of writers. Journalists. Children's picture book writers. Technical writers. Novelists. Poets. Bloggers. People who write marketing reports, and advertising jingles, and opera librettos. See what you learn, and how your own writing grows and changes. Get beyond the stupid hierarchies of writer-land, and I promise, we will all be happier.
11. We write because we are absolutely passionate about our project. We write because the electricity bill must be paid, or because the children need clothes. Passion, and the details of everyday life, are equally good reasons to write.
12. Everyone fantasizes about writing a bestselling book. How could you not dream of being the next J.K. Rowling, with throngs of readers, a name everyone knows, and the knowledge that you’ve affected people’s inner lives?
If the planets align and bestsellerness happens to you, as it did to me, here’s what I have to say: enjoy every minute that you're whisked to New York media appearances in a black town car, taking reporter phone calls and talking with TV producers along the way. Savor walking into a book store and not only seeing your book there, but spotting piles of it on the front table, and being told that the store has reserve copies in the back.
Love it all, and don’t get a big head. It won’t last forever and eventually you'll be back in real life, washing your dinner dishes and folding your laundry, struggling out the writer’s life just like everyone else.
13. Be generous. I learned this from Dr. Laura Levitt, who is now the Director of Women’s Studies at Temple University. She was my coauthor for my first book, the anthology Judaism Since Gender. I love writing with partners. Laura was my first writing partner, and the smartest and the best.
Laura is also the most generous person I know. Her world bubbles with abundance. She pulls others along. She shares. Here's a story. Laura scouts out cashmere sweaters from second hand shops. Sometimes she resells them, and uses the proceeds to help younger writers publish their work. Sometimes she just gives the cashmere goodies away to people in need of a soft and gentle touch.
Whenever the publishing and writing landscape feels narrow, think of Laura and people like her. Open your spirit (even when the world seems tight), and be generous with yourself and others.
There it is, the wisdom of thirteen years. The thing about being a writer, or any kind of artist, is that the path ahead is never clear. The connection of creativity and passion and commercial publishing is murky and unpredictable. That's where the part about cultivating a daring spirit comes in.
And you, fellow She-Writers, thank you for reading, and tell us, what wisdom have you to share with others?