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by Hedgebrook Guest

I’ve been thinking a lot about being a writer in this world. Not about the need to raise our diverse voices, or to break down the barriers that keep too many of us silent; not about the role of writers to expand our collective understanding of what it means to be human. I’ve been thinking about the opposite: about how our current culture is strangling art, and how we are letting it.

You’ve been reading, surely, about authors’ declining income, about our paltry sales figures (even for prize winners). You’ve quite likely read suggestions on the Internet for “making a living” as a writer. But when money “makes” our very lives; when money is the measure of our worth, we are living in Opposite Land. And in Opposite Land, where art equals product, equals sales, equals giving some ill-defined readership what “they” are presumed to want, it can sometimes feel impossible to begin to get words onto a page.

How do we write in this climate of efficiency, productivity and bestseller lists? One way is to embrace opposition, and contradiction, in our writing spaces. If you are looking for a new approach, or some inspiration to energize your writing in a corporate world, here are a few suggestions:

Don’t write: At least, don’t start with the blank page on your computer screen. You’ll find yourself counting pages, or words, and disparaging the quality of your delicate first draft. Instead, grab a journal, and start writing by hand. Try out voices, descriptions; rough out a scene. Cross out, draw arrows, and keep going; messiness can be very freeing. Jot down notes and ideas for later. Record your questions without stopping for the answers. If you brainstorm your way into a dead end, let it be. Your brain is pondering the problem in the background; the answer might sneak up on you in time! You are building pressure in that journal, and when it is bursting with ideas, your blank computer screen will be irresistible. Don’t forget: your journal is waiting for you whenever you want to come back to play.

Don’t edit: Once you are writing, let it flow. If one path peters out, jump to something that feels urgent. Be prepared to be surprised, and to follow those surprises, but try to resist the urge to go back to fix what you have. If the writing is going well, it will keep shifting and changing. You won’t know what each element of the story is supposed to do until you get to the end of the first draft. Revising, and especially polishing, parts of your manuscript too early can be detrimental because you run the risk of making something read so well that it’s hard to see that you are supposed to cut it, or move it, or reassign it to a different character. If that urge to revise is coming from the need to have a product and pages to show for your time: resist!


Don’t isolate yourself: You know the atmosphere you write best in; maybe it’s a wild, quiet garden, or a room with no windows, or a crowded café. But regardless of what you need to do to empty yourself out onto the page, don’t forget to fill yourself back up. Populate your life with books, movies, music, other people; get outside. Exercise your ability to recognize patterns and see how your concerns echo other people’s stories, and the world around you. Plugging yourself into your community will give you energy, and remind you that your writing is meaningful to others.

Don’t focus on success: Which is, of course, what I have been saying all along. With each book I have written (and I am playing with my fourth), I have had to teach myself how to write all over again. The judgment and expectation that come from having or wanting success are the best ingredients for writer’s block. Creativity requires a beginner’s mind, and a willingness to fail, combined with the courage – stubbornness even – to keep learning and playing and trying something new. In our product-driven world, writing, and living, are both processes. Trust the process, and the product will come.


Want more? I am excited to announce a new week-long writing retreat called Pele’s Fire: Write to the Core on the Big Island of Hawaii next April. Pele’s Fire is a perfect place to embrace your contradiction, get your creativity flowing, find community, and get some targeted feedback on your manuscript. There will also be plenty of opportunities for movement, including yoga and a special series of integrated Nia classes, and a trip to the nearby (currently active) volcano. Take a look at pelesfire.com, but hurry! Admission is rolling, and closes December 15th, or when full.


About the Author:

Rahna Reiko RizzutoRahna Reiko Rizzuto is the author of the memoir Hiroshima in the Morning and the novel Why She Left Us. She is the recipient of the American Book Award and the US/Japan Creative Artist Fellowship, and is a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, among other honors. She writes about identity, war, race, history, motherhood and family. Find out more at www.rahnareikorizzuto.com






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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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  • Kathy McMullen
    8:22 AM - 4 October, 2015

    Thank you, Rahna, for the wonderful writing advice. I especially love the reminder not to edit. Keep pushing deeper and through the first draft. Keep learning/experiencing story. Keep being surprised. Be OK with the messiness. It’s OK not to sand over the rough edges. That might end up being dross anyway.

    • reiko
      12:31 PM - 14 October, 2015

      Thank you for reading. That first “the end” is only the beginning! Those rough edges might actually tip your early readers off to some interesting possibilities that you haven’t explored. And did I mention that I write drafts into the double digits?? No one can get it all down in one shot…

  • Jane Summer
    10:02 AM - 6 October, 2015

    Reiko, Boy did you strike all the nerves! Thank you for that essay.

    • reiko
      12:25 PM - 14 October, 2015

      Sitting with a process journal and someone else’s book right now, and just having them in my hands is sparking all sorts of ideas!

  • Mary Sojourner
    4:05 PM - 29 October, 2015

    Thank you for this. The writing doesn’t serve us; we serve the writing. I’ve learned over thirty years of writing and mentoring writers that as a writer is in relationship to his/her life, so s/he is in relationship to her/his writing. If we repeatedly find ourselves stuck in our lives, we will be stuck in our writing. If we are cruelly self-critical, we’ll be brutal to our writing. If we believe we have to control everything, we will control our writing to death. Please check out my mentoring website at http://www.breakthroughwriting.net I post free weekly writing tips, craft exercises and deep explorations. I was blessed to live for six weeks in Owl cottage in 1988. It changed my life. Mary Sojourner

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