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Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life Paperback – August 12, 2014
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Novelist and memoirist Shapiro (Devotion, 2010) explores the qualities of a creative life while reflecting on the indelible relationship between her own experiences and her writing practice. An accomplished author, Shapiro provides insight into both craft and career, separating the text into three parts: “Beginnings,” “Middles,” and “Ends.” Each looks at certain literary efforts alongside everyday challenges faced at the different stages of the creative process, from such general pitfalls as procrastination to more unwieldy, internal struggles, such as uncertainty, restlessness, and self-doubt. Shapiro blends her personal thoughts with anecdotes from fellow writers, providing varying perspectives and strategies in navigating the demands of writing. Throughout the text, Shapiro weaves in reflections on the more difficult circumstances of her life, including an isolated childhood, her father’s death, and the complicated relationship with her mother. In these moments, the narrative explores how such events shaped and informed Shapiro’s writing then and now. Honest and conversational, Shapiro provides an introspective look into the creative process and the value of persistence, offering inspiration for writers at any level. --Leah Strauss --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"Still Writing offers up a cornucopia of wisdom, insights, and practical lessons gleaned from Dani Shapiro's long experience as a celebrated writer and teacher of writing. The beneficiaries are beginning writers, veteran writers and everyone in between."Jennifer Egan
Writers need hope. Writers need help. Thank you, Dani Shapiro." Michael Cunningham
"Dani Shapiro has written a wise, pragmatic, and soulful field guide to the writing life. Still Writing is filled with honest words to not only live by but write toward. Shapiro has created a well-drawn map for the lost, the weary, and the found. I loved it." Terry Tempest Williams
"One of those rare books that is both beautiful and useful. Still Writing is an exploration of the writing life, lit up by Shapiro's luminous voice."Susan Orlean
"A thoughtful examination of [Shapiro's] life and the creative process that has defined it....Cleareyed, honest and grounded."Kirkus Reviews
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Top Customer Reviews
For me, this book serves as a reminder that despite the push toward science and mathematics in our schools today, creative endeavors in writing, art, etc. are still worthy. Not to say that those who love science or math aren't creative - they are. I remember speaking with a computer programmer once and he told me that he found what he did very creative. Often to those of us outside of a discipline, we don't see the draw of it.
What I enjoyed about the book was the prevailing lesson that you don't need to wait for The Big Idea before you sit down to write, to sculpt, or whatever your endeavor is. You just need to begin and the story, sculpture, picture will emerge. Shapiro also echoes what I've heard time and time again about your chosen work: discipline. Show up. Be present.
Some favorite moments:
* Don't think too much. There'll be time to think later. Analysis won't help. You're chiseling now. You're passing your hands over the wood. Now the page is no longer blank. There's something there. It isn't your business yet to know whether it's going to be prize-worthy someday, or whether it will gather dust in a drawer. Now you've carved the tree. You've chiseled the marbled. You've begun.
*When two people who shouldn't be married to each other bring a child into the world, that child - I'm distancing myself here, making myself into a character - that child cannot help but feel as if she's navigating the world on a borrowed visa. Her papers aren't in order. Her right to be here is in question.
*I sit down everyday at around the same time and put myself in the path of inspiration...If I don't sit down, if I'm not there working, the inspiration will pass right by me, like the right guy in a romantic comedy who's on the other side of the party but the girl never sees because she' focused on her total loser of a date.
*I haven't waited to be in the mood. I've just gone ahead and done it anyway, because that's what I've been doing for years now.
*She is practicing, because she knows that there is no difference between practice and art. The practice IS the art.
*It would be many years before I began to understand that all of life is practice: writing, driving, hiking, brushing teeth, packing lunch boxes, making beds, cooking dinner, making love, walking dogs, even sleeping. We are always practicing. Only practicing.
*"Know your own bone," Thoreau wrote. "Gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, gnaw it still." Of course, the beginning of this powerful piece of wisdom is: "Do what you love." In order to do what we love - whether we are woodworkers, legal-aid attorneys, emergency room physicians, or novelists - we must first know ourselves as deeply as we are able. Know you own bone. This self-knowledge can be messy. But it is at the center of our life's work, this gnawing, this unearthing. There is never an end to it. Our deepest stories - our bones - are our best teachers. Gnaw it still.
*When I first learned of Buddhism's eight vissicitudes - pain and pleasure, gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disrepute - I was taught that it is unskillful to compare. We will never know what's coming. We cannot peer around the bend. Envy is human, yes, but also corrosive and powerful. It is our job to pursue our own dharma and covet no one else's.
She let's you know that
we've all been there before and most important priority is not to lose focus.
Trust the process. Embrace the struggle. Stay calm and ride it out. Even when its uncomfortable.
It will reward you in more ways than you'd expect. It's the writing that matters.
No single writer has the right and only way.
Each writer has to find what works their best and honor it. Showing up regularly. Commit.
Ms. Shapiro shows that it can give an enriching life if you seriously open up to all. Teaching you about yourself, your life and even the past.
It has garnered a place on my 'most favorite' shelf..
The beginnings part starts with her personal memories from an unhappy childhood to rebellious life experience while she was in college. Childhood life experience could be an important source of materials to write and affect how Dani perceive the world (P.127, P.191). According to Dani, writing is an ongoing journey to understand the meaning of life, define her existence, and establish order out of chaos. The writing process requires her to have high level of patience, discipline, endurability to eschew distractions and stay with uncertainty, and more importantly, to live in the present moment in witnessing what she is writing with imagination of the past and future. Everybody can be a writer when he/she begins to identify an edge to write through darkness (P.88) in a place where it can write best (P.21).
The middles part of the writing process is analogous to build a boat in a seamless ocean while she has to summon stamina, optimism, hope, rhythm to work (P.100), and courage (P.91). The interesting part to note is that a writer can be very vulnerable to despair while he/she determines to allow outside readers (friends or writing folks) to make comments on the manuscript. He/she would struggle against endless uncertainty while creative writing does not have an “always so” (P.136) and a literary form in GPS (P.114), though a writer has to create a frame to keep himself/herself in line in writing (P.165). For most of writers who are urban creatures, Dani gives maintains that writing is to engage with their “dharma” to identify sources of inspiration and avoid distractions by those fleas of life (P.131, 138). In this part, Dani also narrates her “before and after” (P.106) moments when she was in her 30s, including how she stayed with painful and unpredictable traumas in life, including her fastidious and emotional mother, the sudden death of her father and her relatives (P.134), and her son’s dire prognosis. Her previous life experience is to learn how to embrace and accepts such moments because like the writing process, there can be numerous “before and after” in the middles.
To Dani, the endings of writing are exciting to writers because this is the moment the boat reaches/is going to reach the shores. Being a writer is a self-fulfillment occupation (P.225, P.227) to Dani but the whole writing life also involves profound practical risks (P.180) which is similar to the building of skyscrapers from the top down. A writer has to endure solitary, darkness, uncertainty and astonishment (P.204, P.213, P.218), repeated memory of what he/she has written (P.196).
I am not a writer but I get insightful ideas from this book which is relevant to how I think my life with fortitude, stamina, intellect, and meaning. A great book for readers who love to understand writing life and get life better.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
After buying this book at the airport, I finished it within a few hours and went immediately onto amazon.Read more