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by Hedgebrook Guest

dani_shapiro_blogpostIt’s hard to believe that Dani Shapiro, bestselling author of the memoirs Devotion and Slow Motion, as well as five novels and the craft book, Still Writing, has struggled with giving herself permission to write.

“Permission is something that everyone who creates has to find a way to access,” says Shapiro, who was raised in an orthodox Jewish home, where it was expected that, as a woman, she would marry an investment banker and raise kids in the suburbs. “Doctors don’t graduate from medical school wondering if they’ll practice medicine; people don’t graduate from law school needing to ask permission to be an attorney. But anything we do that’s about creating something from nothing, is bushwhacking in a way. The more we’re forging our own path, the more we feel the need to be granted permission to do so. And often, there’s nobody there to give us that assurance.”

Difficult as it may be, Shapiro believes it’s particularly important for women in give themselves permission to explore their inner lives through writing and other creative outlets. Here are her five strategies for giving herself creative permission:


1. Tune out your inner critic.

Even after being a professional writer for twenty years, Shapiro’s inner critic can be tough to tune out. “My critic asks, who am I to be a writer, a thinker, someone who has anything important to say,” she admits. She’s become an avid practitioner of yoga and meditation over the years, which helps her to quiet that negative voice. (Alice Hoffman walks with her dog, and Elizabeth George clears the brush in her heavily wooded yard. It’s all about getting centered in what’s real.


2. Put aside the expectations of the outside world.

Shapiro has friends who can’t understand why she doesn’t answer the phone during the day. “My best friend, a psychotherapist, said to me, ‘Why can’t you just pick up? I know you’re there. Why do you have to be so rigid?’ I used to think, maybe she’s right. But the fact is, if I allow my attention to drift too far away from the very quiet place from which I work— especially early in the day—I’m screwed. So, I’ve learned to be at peace with what I require—even if that’s not convenient for other people.”


3. Designate Sacred Time for writing and keep moving forward.

“It’s essential to have sacred time for writing and set daily goals,” says Shapiro, who writes three manuscript pages a day, five days a week. She cites other successful authors have some daily commitment to keep on-track and moving forward: Karen Thompson Walker wrote for an hour every morning before work and wrote the best-selling novel, The Age of Miracles. Jennifer Egan writes seven pages long-hand, whether it takes an hour or all day.

So much of this is about tricking our mind into finding forward motion, keeping away from that place where we think, oh my god this is so hard, why am I doing this? Hemingway used to stop mid-sentence so that he’d have an easier place to begin the next day. I begin each day by looking at the previous day’s work, printed out. Sometimes, the night before I’ll print out my three pages and mark them up so that I have somewhere to begin the next day. “At some point,” says Shapiro, “the page starts to give you back something. It becomes a dialogue, and it does become easier. The beginning is such a leap of faith and requires such silencing the censor and giving permission to oneself.”


4. Push writing up your to-do list.

Women are conditioned both by biology and society to be givers, so taking time for ourselves, to pursue writing or any creative endeavor, can be difficult. So how do we push writing up our to-do list without feeling selfish? Here’s Shapiro’s advice: “Remember that writing –– which is an incredible tool for self-discovery –– is a pathway to allow us to know ourselves more deeply. And the more deeply we know ourselves, the more we will be able, in fact, to give to our families.”


Vortext_250x250Dani Shapiro will be one of five workshop leaders at Vortext, an extraordinary weekend salon at the famed Whidbey Institute, led by renowned women writers. The program, now in its fourth year, gives writers the opportunity to connect in diverse and powerful small-group workshops. Writers also enjoy dynamic keynotes and discussions about opportunities and challenges for women who write, as well as several open mic sessions over the course of the weekend. Join us to share meals, conversation and community in a stunningly beautiful setting. Learn more and register now.


About the Author:

Jennifer Haupt is a freelance writer in Seattle who contributes to magazines including: O, The Oprah Magazine, Parents, Reader’s Digest, and Spirituality & Health. She also curates the Psychology Today blog, One True Thing, a collection of essays about the moments that matter most, and is working on her debut novel.



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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

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