Think of Yourself as Incandescent Power

Inspiration is a beautiful word when you break it down. It means “to breathe in,” from the Latin, in-spir-a-tus’. Some trace the word to “the immediate influence of God or gods” under which the holy books were written. In – spire – to breathe in spirit.


And there are those who believe that writing—the art of writing—is a holy act. I happen to be one of those people. This is not to say that what we write is always holy… not by a long shot, witness some of the very books you and I have written, some of today’s best sellers, 50 shades of books that have been judged as profane. Natalie Goldberg’s “worst junk in America,” Anne Lamott’s “shitty first drafts,” my own shambled notebooks. But the act of writing, that is what’s holy.

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Make Your Own Joyful Noise

Everyone has at least one strong, beautiful, perfectly learned voice and if you use that voice with utter abandon and confidence, good writing happens. Why? Because it’s authentic. Writing in this voice is not something you have to learn. Your voice is already there and it’s unique because you are unique.

This voice is the place you come from, the language you learned at the kitchen table, in the back yard and surrounded by family. Your authentic voice is attitude, geography and history. Grace Paley said, “If you say what’s on your mind in the language that comes to you from your parents and your street and friends, you’ll probably say something beautiful.”

Sometimes it may seem the more we learn about the craft of writing, the more difficult the act becomes. In trying to get it “right,” we lose the lovely, imaginative voice that comes naturally and write in a voice that is not our own. Writing becomes work. This is where so many writers become discouraged and quit.

Please don’t do that.

Come back to your own native voice. No one knows that language as perfectly as you know it. Allow it to take over and talk through you and onto your page. “Write freely, recklessly, in first drafts,” Brenda Ueland told us.

Our aim as writers is to refine and strengthen our voice, to explore the terrain of our natural language, to discover its peaks and valleys, its sounds and the silence between sounds. Our job is to write and rewrite until what we have written resonates with what is authentic and true.

Remember as you go to your writing, no one else can tell the stories you have to tell and no one else can write them in the voice that is uniquely and authentically your own.

This piece was written for UCSD Extension’s “Enrich Yourself” brochure. I’ll be teaching three workshops at Extension this fall. Find out more here.

Is Your Imagination Present?

Rainbow Tunnel

Rainbow Tunnel by Mark Chandler

Someone said all you need to be a writer is an imagination and curiosity. (Add to that, stamina.) Your imagination is in the unique, individual way you see the world, the particular and specific details you notice, and the connections you make. More than merely your experience, it is the way you contemplate and interpret your experience. Henry James said, “[Experience] is the very atmosphere of the mind; and when the mind is imaginative . . . it takes to itself the faintest hints of life, it converts the very pulses of air into revelations.”

How can you tell whether the imagination is present, not only in your writing but also in your life?

• You feel a strong urge to create — to write, to paint, to play music, to dance, to make art.

• Your writing is bold, full of passion and life. “Violent passions emit the Real, Good and Perfect tones,” William Blake said.

• You experience great freedom in your writing, leaping from image to image as if your words were Baryshnikov and your notebook the stage.

• You work innocently, not from the ego and not to please or impress.

• You are comfortable doing nothing. For long stretches of time.

• You trust your writing and your experience.

• You live in the present moment because you know that is where imagination will look for you.

• You meander rather than stride calisthenically; you notice the form and colors of leaves, the shape of clouds, the curve of a hill.

• Your writing (and your life) surprises you.

• You try some new thing rather than doing the same old same old — even if the tried and true was great.

• You believe you will never run out of ideas.

• You don’t plan what you are going to do — you just do it; the planning comes later. And even the planning is creative, lively, inspired.

• You go forth (in your writing and your life) with no fear.

• You gaze out windows for long periods of time and stare into treetops; you’ve been accused of daydreaming.

• You write new, raw, wild stuff instead of rewriting the same piece endlessly.

• You converse about your characters as if they were fully alive.

• You are completely yourself. That’s when ideas come, according to Mozart, who knew these things.

• You make up things with the abandon of a child. Spontaneity thrills you.

• You write without the need to prove anything.

• You live your life fully, submerging yourself completely in the experience of it.

You cannot force imagination to be present, but if you are in no hurry, “free, good-natured and at ease,” it will appear, according to Brenda Ueland, who said, “The imagination is always searching in us and trying to free what we really think.”

Do any of these descriptions fit you? Excite you? Go… do it!

Excerpted from A Writer’s Book of Days