Writing with Others

Why is it difficult to begin? At least it often is for me. Right now, my friend Rachel, also a writer, is over and we’ve had oatmeal and strawberries and are writing in my living room instead of a cafe. We went to a cafe a few times last week, but the noise and not being able to control the sounds of people on their phones and talking in loud voices rattled me and left me in a foul mood. It’s easier right now to be at home and to have quiet company.

I’ve got Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind next to me—a book I bought in 1991, with the money from a $10 check I received for publishing a poem in the journal Hanging Loose. Goldberg (I want to say Natalie—I’ve lived with this book for so long—and did hear her speak in Newton, MA once) often writes about the writing and processes behind books—about what it means to be a writer and to commit yourself to that life.

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I retrieved Natalie’s book from my bookcase yesterday to look for some words (an idea of hers) that I may use for a speech I’m giving tomorrow at the Rochester Public Library. Although I seem to have public speaking gigs regularly, they still make nervous. The chapter is called “Who Gave You Permission?” As in—who gave you permission to be a writer. She writes:

There’s someone further along the path, who gives you the nod, who says yes, who adores literature as much as you and so gives you permission to love this odd thing all the way and to continue with it in the face of everything. When I say ‘you ask permission,’ I do not mean you have to go to someone higher up on the totem pole and inquire, Is it okay if I write? Write before you ask anyone. As a matter of fact, never ask anyone; always write, but it is about relationship. You know another writer and this reinforces your own love and commitment. It is not about them saying yes or no; it is about encouragement and friendship. And it is about something deep and unspoken.

I want to say something about this to the high school students I’ll be speaking to tomorrow. They’ve all won awards in a literary contest—the same one I won in 1989, when I was in high school. I want to say something about why writing is important and how I hope they will keep writing—whatever else they may do with their lives. My friend Holly is reading my draft now. I’ll see if Goldberg’s words get cut or stay in. Whether or not I need to edit them for my remarks tomorrow, they stay in here in this blog post.

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