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The Daring Writers Guide #1: 13 Things I've Learned in 13 Years
Contributor

I'm Miriam Peskowitz, author. In 13 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 14 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.

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 one of, oh, about 16, 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, 13 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 13 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 othe

 

Read more of the Daring Writer's Guide >

 

* This post was orginally published in April 2011.

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Comments
  • Sandra L Campbell

    At this point in my writing ....blogging....I am enjoying every moment.  I don't think about the pressures of pounding out a writing under contract ....not yet anyway! 

    Rowling has quite a mind and it must have taken a lot out of her to write all she did.  Not everyone has that gift, and can come out of it looking as stunning as she does....she also has a child doesn't she?  I don't remember.  I do know when I read her series I was totally inspired, and not to write what she writes about just to write.

    I feel by becoming a member here, and reading your helpful advice, and the advice of others....I must add, so very generously provided to us.... I am gaining more knowledge that will eventually turn into wisdom to share with others as I find my own way.

    For those that are contracted to write and share of yourselves to us that are not, thank you so much.  I read everything I can, and it has been very helpful to me to begin my long......journey!  Sandra 

  • Nissi Mutale

    Great tips!

  • This is great, Miriam. Can't wait to read all 16, or however many you decide to post. And congratulations on your success w/ The Daring Book for Girls.

  • Nandi Keyi

    "The thing about being a writer, or any kind of artist, is that the path ahead is never clear." Indeed, it is downright muddled and it takes courage and daring to stick with it, even when writing is all you have left.

  • Daphne Q

    Thank you so much for sharing this Miriam... so much good advice in here... I'm going to try the writing while driving idea... safely, of course

  • Sharon D. Dillon

    Great tips, MP. Thank you.

    However, Toni McConnel's comments gave me courage. While my life has not been as stark as hers I have some secrets and have been fearing the consequences of sharing them in print. I've tried to write a story that was honest, yet comfortable for my grandkids to read. Toni has shown me that sharing the ugly can be beautiful as well as freeing. So I must stop censoring myself and just write the story - warts and all.

  • Deborah Siegel Writing

    LOVE THIS, MP!!!

  • Lovenia Leapart

    Wonderful post!

  • Love this!

     

    I have a list of go-to blog posts about writing and creativity. I'm such a nerd: I send myself Google alerts from my calendar reminded me to read one of them every day. This list is going into the rotation!

     

    Thanks -

    http://youaretalentedandoriginal.blogspot.com

    www.keetha.com

  • Shah Wharton

    Hey there

    Really loved your 13 thoughts/wisdoms. I've taken them in to a place within me where they will nestle, preparing to inform at the required moment. I'm all over the one about editing - sculpturing the first draft. Although, there comes a point when I must move onto the rest of the writing part! 

     

    Shah. x

  • Tania Pryputniewicz

    Great list--especially loved this: "Discard and change your [goal] list when you want. Or, ignore this, as I did for many years. " I've been a chronic list maker since I was five--I love looking back in January each year at last year's list of goals to see how many things manifested. I spent an hour cleaning up my writing studio and now I can actually see my desk--today's progress. Mundane--but exhilerating. Can't wait til my Friday writing day now to get in there. Also loved the cashmere sweater story. What a creative heart, there, an inspiration. Thanks again for talking to us here.

  • Cori Howard

    I love all your 13 years worth of wisdom, but especially the bit about not getting distracted by ideas for essays. That's my major problem. I'm always getting new ideas and I think I need to write every one of them. Focus. Focus. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Dawn Nickel

    Thank you. I desperately needed to read those thirteen points.

  • Dangerous Old Woman

    I wrote an autobiographical novel, Sing Soft, Sing Loud, about my life on the street and as a prisoner in jails and prison.  My objective was to write a book that was above all else true to the lives of women like myself, which had not been done - the majority of books about women in prison having been written by what I call 'tourists', that is, women who did not live life on the street as degraded 'whores' and for whom prison was usually a one-time exception to otherwise ordinary lives.  To write a book that was true to the lives of the women I wanted to speak for required levels of revelation that were terrifying to me, because my experience included episodes of sexual degradation that I was complicit in creating.  I was afraid of getting mail from sexual sicko's, and even more afraid of being attacked by reviewers for writing prurient material.  (This was in the late 80s, before today's climate of general licentiousness evolved.)

    But instead, the book got rave reviews and at readings I was stunned at the respect I got for my honesty.  People seemed to appreciate how painful the book must have been to write, and what the cost must have been. I never got one call or letter from anyone with a sick agenda.  My greatest reward was a letter from a man who was in "the hole" (total isolation) in a state prison, who said "You got yourself out of the hole you were in, I will get myself out of this one."

    What I came away with is that fear of writing risky material might not be based on any real threat.  An added bonus was that it is now impossible to embarrass me; I have no secrets. This has resulted in a surprising sense of freedom.  I now say what I really think without censoring, including here on She Writes. There is a lot more to be said on all this; perhaps I will blog about it.

    If you're curious about the book, you can read a description of it at www.singsoftsingloud.com.

    Toni McConnel

  • Meagan Frank

    Fabulously inspiring. Thanks for your generosity and your gentle motivation. Your success is not accidental, and your influence will continue to be profound.

     

    Thank you!!

     

    MMF

  • Marcia Meier

    Beautiful essay on the writing life, Miriam. Your "driving to write" example is a good reminder that ideas come to us from all kinds of places and in many different ways. I keep a small notebook with me at all times, and even at my bedside. Many good ideas for my novels or nonfiction have come in the middle of the night, and I wake just long enough to fumble around for my pen and paper and write a sentence or two to come back to in the morning. It works!

  • Sarah Pinneo

    I love it!  Especially this part: "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."

    Yep.

    S.P.

  • Things I knew, Things I needed to know, and things I needed to remember.  Thanks so much.

  • Claire Vorster

    That's it in a nutshell.  Write, keep at it, journey together, love the road.  Thanks Miriam!

     

    Have a good writing week,

    Claire x

  • "... the path ahead is never clear."  Yes. Reminded me of this great quote I happened upon this weekend:

    "Writing is like driving a car at night in fog. You can only see as far as

    your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

    E.L. Doctorow

     

    Thanks for sharing your experience and encouragement. My daughter and I love The Daring Book for Girls. Looking forward to your ongoing columns!

     

  • I always wondered why nobody has ever written a book DARING WOMEN...or have they??  Dare to create conflict because you have something you believe in, dare to fight for what you believe ...and have your characters do it too... Terrific column.

  • Gale Massey

    What a great way to start a Monday at the keyboard. Every woman should read this bit.

  • This is a fabulous column, Miriam. I laughed about getting in your van and driving when you are stuck; I do a similar thing, except I combine it with errands and forget my notepad half the time. I've learned that the really good ideas will still be there even if I don't get to write them down on the spot; this is how I've come to trust my own creativity. For me, the biggest challenge is that balance between solitude and connection.

     

    I'm really looking forward to your next column.

  • Audry Fryer

    Miriam, this list is one of the best about the realities of being a woman writer that I've read.  It's difficult, especially as a woman (and a mother), not to get discouraged.  I thank you for your honesty and for the inspiration you've provided me to dare to follow my writing dreams :)

  • Sharon D. Dillon

    Thank you, Miriam. All these hints are valuable. Setting goals is hard so I'd better start working on that one. #7 Finding the stillness within is vital for me. Perfect timing for me also. Last week I gave my ms to an editor and my job while she is working is to compile a list of potential publishers.

    I look forward to your Thursday posts.