Dani Shapiro
August 28, 2008

The Process

Sometimes a student, or a beginning writer, will tell me that she only writes when she feels inspired. I’ve given this a lot of thought–and practical application–over the years, and have come to the conclusion that if I only wrote when I felt inspired, I would have written, at the very most, one extremely slim volume by now. No. From the beginning, I have kept regular hours. Monday to Friday, 9-5, more or less. Weekends and holidays off. The idea of working in the middle of the night, or on a sunny Saturday, or on a holiday, makes me feel too out-of-step with the rest of the world. And, as a writer, I already feel out-of-step enough.

The process of writing Devotion, though, has been different thus far than any of my previous books. It’s very stop-start, push-pull. It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Friends tell me that I say this about every book, but this time it’s true. The nature of this memoir/journey dictates that I be extremely solitary and quiet in order to do the writing, but at the same time live in the world and experience life to its fullest. I feel excruciatingly open–as if I have one less layer of skin than everyone around me. Sensitized, quivering, alert to every nuance. It’s sort of a great way to live, though some times it gets a bit too intense. But again, that’s the nature of this book. I’m traveling inward, diving deep into the middle of the middle of life, then trying to articulate what it is that I find there. Whoever said that’s supposed to be easy?

John Gregory Dunne once described writer’s block as a failure of nerve–nothing more, nothing less. Nothing mystical about it. When we write, it means that we have overcome our own fears, our own inner censoring voices, if only for that minute, that hour, that day. And then the minutes and hours and days pile up, they accrue, sticking to each other as they become weeks, months, years–stories, poems, novels, memoirs in the making. In writing Devotion, I am learning that anew. Each day, I overcome my resistance. I watch the self-defeating questions float through my mind: why me? what right do I have? why do I think I have anything to say about this that hasn’t already been said? On good days, I treat these questions the way I treat random thoughts during my meditation practice. Oh, yeah. You again. Okay. Thanks for sharing. Now go away.