The Writing Life

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Curious as to what we might have in common, I was glad when my Mississippi Writers Book Group chose The Writing Lifeby Ellen Gilchrist as our next book. In a series of essays, she makes interesting reflections on her own life and on writing. 

I found something in common almost immediately as she describes her early adult years taking care of family and satisfying her love of literature by reading. She still was called on to write the minutes of the PTA meeting and a play for her husband’s law firm. My counterpart was writing programs for the children to perform and letters to the Texas legislature to support reasonable private kindergarten regulation during my years as a teacher in our church kindergarten. 

She claims that publishing is not the thing that drives writers but the muse itself since real writers get into spells where they write, believing what they write, in love with what they write, and willing to sacrifice anything for it. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but close!

Applying some advice from potters to the work of writing, she quotes, “You consign the pot to the fire and you accept the judgment of the fire.” She says this is true also of writing, and I would agree though I would add that the acceptance of that judgment doesn’t always come easy. 

I also concur with the philosophy she shares with her students who feel blocked by not knowing if their work will be any good as she agrees with them and tells them that the only way to find out is to do it. 

Down to nitty-gritty practicality, she shares a piece of advice from a collection of Hemingway quotes inOn Writing – to quit for the day while she still knew what to write next, coming back fresh to that place in the morning. Having heard this suggestion from writers less famous than either Hemingway or Gilchrist, I’ve found it works for me, too.  

Like me, she was both writer and teacher, though our order was switched since she was writer first and then taught at the college level and she taught college students while I taught elementary and middle grade. 

There were other experiences that I could not share at all. Thankfully, I missed her struggle with alcohol though I admired her courage and success in conquering her demon. I have not been married to three different men, one of them twice. Once to the same man seems rather tame in comparison, but it works for me. 

Whether or not you have any interest in writing, I recommend this series of readable essays that speak most of all to being human.