Body Work by Melissa Febos

Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative by Melissa Febos

This book can easily be gobbled up in a day, but the digestion would take several. Excellent. When I finished it I had so many papers stuck in the pages marking parts I wanted to return to that I essentially wanted to re-read the entire thing. Narrowing it down to these, some of my favorite quotes and what they mean to me below.

“I have found that a fulfilling writing life is one in which the creative process merges with the other necessary processes of good living, which only the individual can define.”

Every writing book I’ve ever read has tried to put into a single sentence what it means to be a writer. This is perfection though. It is going to be different for everyone. I believe it was Ann Patchett that got into an argument with another prominent writer over what it is to be a writer, because the other writer had some very exact proofs and Ann basically said, yeah but I don’t do that and I’m a writer. This sentence is the perfect yeah but. I have my ideal writing day (which has never happened), my usual writing day (most days of the month), and my uncommon writing days (kids get sick, it’s a perfect storm of deadlines and family visiting and the chickens have been attacked by a bear, or whatever). The bottom line is that my writing process isn’t the same from one day to another as much as I try to make it so. I’m no less a writer. And neither are you.

“I became a writer because the process helped me survive and it still does.”

I think I’ve mentioned before that I had a professor in college who essentially said, you write because you’re a writer, because you have to. I love the idea of writing for survival, although it all seems to very dramatic. Yet it’s true. I’ve never not written, which is a very double negative way of saying that if I’m not writing letters to friends and family then I’m writing in my journal, or posting on my blog, or working on a story or a novel or or or… We write because we must.

“The story that comes calling might be your own and it might not go away if you don’t open the door. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I only believe in fear.”

The most terrifyingly accurate thing I’ve ever heard about writer’s block. I absolutely believe we get to a point in our writing where we don’t know how to move forward, and it’s almost never because we genuinely don’t know what comes next. For me, I’ll become afraid that the thing I’m about to say is too unique to me to be understood by anyone else or that’s it’s too off-putting or that if I say this thing people might think it’s the autobiographical part of the fiction piece I’m working on or or or. But the bottom line is that I don’t stop writing because I have writer’s block. I have fear. I have fear around this thing I need to say and until I work through the fear, it’s not going to get written. That’s on me. I can’t blame the not-writing on writer’s block, only on my own fear.

“Empowerment often begins more subtly, with only a narrow ledge inside ourselves wide enough to hold a crumb of resistance.”

There are several paragraphs in this sentence. Stop resisting your own empowerment and write yourself off the ledge. (I say this to myself as much as to anyone else).

“Tenacity is often cited as the most common characteristic of successful authors.”

Once again, said in a different way and in a different voice, the bottom line is to keep going. Keep writing. Keep painting. Keep dancing. Whatever it is you do, keep doing it. The only way to fail is to stop trying.

“I cannot imagine nurturing a devotion to any practice more consistently than one which yields the reward of transformation, the assurance of lovability, and the eradication of regret.”

I hadn’t thought I wrote towards the “eradication of regret” but one of my stories proved to be so very autobiographical and soothing that I realized how lovely that would be. To be a memoirist whose words become the balm of their memory. I have always believed in writing (and reading) as yielding “the reward of transformation,” however, very much so. If you’re not being transformed by what you’re doing, what’s the point?

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? What are some of your favorite quotes? Have any book suggestions for me? I’d love to hear from you.

Writing Down the Bones

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

I have a shelf of books on writing (that’s a lie, they were on a shelf but they were being ignored and shelf space is at a premium, so I put them in a stack thinking “a stack of books could tip over; I will certainly read them if they’re stacked.” And I have been reading them so I guess there’s that). Amazing books on writing that I’ve collected over the years and I’m finally starting to read them. Last month I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Amazing. And this month I read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. These are some of my thoughts based on some of the things she said that really stood out for me.

“There is no permanent truth you can corner in a poem
that will satisfy you forever”

If you’ve been writing your whole life, it’s easy to look back on the things you’ve written and wonder who wrote them. A wonderful and also frightening thing. Isn’t it fascinating that the person you are now is so different from the person you were then? Isn’t it so incredible to be a person always changing, growing, becoming? Going through old writings is like running into someone I used to be really good friends with but we somehow grew apart and it’s sad and sweet to catch up with them again. I’m grateful when the catch-up is over and I can go back to the person I am now, the person I’m on my way to being, no longer waylaid by that trip to the past.

“In order to write about it, we have to go to the heart of it and know it,
so the ordinary and extraordinary flash before our eyes simultaneously”

Everyone says to write what you know. Everyone. More recently I hear writers giving the advice that one ought to make sure it’s their story to tell. That works too. I try every day to remind myself to look around me. There’s a light here that’s unlike the light of any other place I’ve ever been. They say the light in Paris is pink, something I’ve never noticed myself, and the light here, where I live is blue, sometimes purple. The light itself. Not the sky or the sunrise/sunset. The actual light, the molecules of air are tinted blue. It’s remarkable. And perfectly ordinary when you’ve lived here long enough to stop noticing.

“We are carried on the backs of all the writers who came before us”

I’ve always been an excellent myna bird; picking up a bit of slang here or an affected way of saying something there. I usually don’t even notice until I’ve said it a few times and then I realize I’m not speaking like me. It makes it easy to pick up the correct accent when learning a new language, difficult to shed when you’re trying to write something and it sounds familiar but you can’t place why. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, you’d think we wouldn’t worry about sounding like ourselves. What’s the point of writing if you’re not going to write yourself?

“I write because to form a word with your lips and tongue or think a thing and then dare to write it down so you can never take it back
is the most powerful thing I know”

A professor in college said something along the lines of “you write because you have to.” I forget that writing can be powerful because I’m so absorbed in the fact of writing, in the writing because I can’t not write. I love the idea of writing something powerful. I love even more than powerful, the idea that anything I say may matter to even one person.

“Finally, if you want to write, you have to just shut up,
pick up a pen, and do it”

And this is what it comes down to. I haven’t written any of my stories in three days because I’ve been dealing with sick kids and messed up sleep schedules and the general chaos that accompanies disease. I feel wound up, like I couldn’t possibly sleep even though I’m exhausted. I feel like I could stay up all night writing and not feel tired tomorrow. None of this is true, of course, because I’m 43 years old and a night without sleep is likely to derail my entire week. I know this. And yet…the not writing has created a sort of low frequency hum inside me. Sometimes, even if you don’t want to write, you have to just shut up and do it, because sometimes you have to write, there’s no choice in the matter.

What Success Means

What Success Means

I have the great fortune to be involved in a women’s group in my small town that’s full of incredible people. Every one of these women is very different. We meet as a group once a week to discuss a topic or do a craft or hear a speaker. The group was created to bring women in our small community together to support one another and connect on a deeper level. I am so beyond grateful to to the woman who created and runs the group, and appreciative of all the women who attend.

Last night we did a vision board craft. Everyone brought poster board and magazines, stickers, markers, glue. There was a lot of talking, a lot of laughing, a lot of connecting. We were all working on the same craft: vision boards. And every single board was different. Of course it was. We are all different. We all have different goals, different joys, different ideas of success. Of course we do. Of course our boards would all contain different images, words, colors.

Success’ literal meaning, dictionary wise, is the accomplishment of an aim/purpose.

That’s it.

You set a goal. You achieve it. Success.

That’s the magic formula.

Why then do we have these vastly wildly beautifully different ideas of what success is? Because everyone’s goals are different.

And if you’re truly lucky, if you’re really living your life, your goals are always changing, growing, getting better and different.

My hope for all these woman, myself included, is that our vision boards are reminders for our current goals, that we achieve them, that we create new vision boards that look radically different than these, repeat.

What does your vision board look like?