"Language, after all, isn’t a spontaneous effusion of the self like vomit or urine. Language is social; it’s a form of communication. Descartes can insist, “Cogito, ergo sum,” but before that “Cogito,” there was some other person who taught little Descartes his Latin. Rather than “I think therefore I am,” it would be more accurate to say, “Somebody else speaks, therefore I am,” or, better, “Somebody else spoke first, therefore I can speak as well."-Actually, Don’t Write Like You’re Dead by Noah Berlatsky in The Atlantic.
hushnwonder asked: Hi Julia! So happy to see you back to blogging! I think you to be very brave and an incredible source of inspiration - please know that. Best of luck with everything in the future! That being said, I have a question. I want to write, more than anything. But I have so many thoughts, I don't quite know where to begin. I know every writer has their own way of working, but could you give some advice as to where to begin?
Oh, thank you for being so kind! Your well wishes are very appreciated, let me assure you!
In terms of starting to write, I can tell you what has worked best for me in the past. For me, it seems like stories can either be finished right away, or after a long time, or not at all. The ones that I write quickly are usually my best, prose-wise, but they are also usually the least complex or layered and ultimately are less exciting to me and occupy less of my imagination. I feel like it takes me a longer time to discover everything that needs to go into something substantial, and really it does feel like discovery. I can never know what will strike me as being important, or why, or when I will learn it. Sometimes I don’t find that last piece until a couple of years after I start something. That’s probably very un-comforting, but it IS true that everybody’s different!
The process of writing is fascinating to me because it engages the mind in SO many ways, not least of which is the kind of puzzle-fitting that happens once you know you have all the right pieces — now where do you put them? Something I have my students do at writing camp is make a story from three Wikipedia paragraphs I give them at random. I give a lot of people the same paragraphs, but always combined with different ones, and everyone comes up with WILDLY different stories and they are always really really entertaining. This is something you could do to just start the process of that fitting-together — you could do it with personal ideas too, ones you’re already mulling over and considering writing about. It may take a bunch of tries to come up with a story idea that really works, but the practice will never hurt you and you never know when you’ll hit that vein of gold.
I’m writing a novel now and it feels so huge and overwhelming sometimes. But I’m also doing something now that I never did before, which is to tediously outline what happens in every chapter, in detail, in order. It sucks while I’m doing it and I feel like my brain is about the deflate, but the result is that I always know what to write. I never have to think about it! It has helped me from feeling unmoored in the vastness of the “what-if.” I hope that helps! xo
euphydoll asked: This isn't so much a question as it is a little bit of tenderness... I am so happy to see a post from you again! I've been following your blog for a few years now and thrilled to see you writing again, I've missed your words. What kinds of things will you be putting up now?
How kind of you! This message hits me at an especially poignant time, since I’ve been thinking a lot of long thoughts about what (if anything) I should write about on a public blog. I had a crisis regarding this very issue a few months ago (after I stopped posting here) because of the parameters of a new relationship I’ve begun — I won’t say much else about that situation, except that the idea of what should remain private and what can legitimately enter the realm of artistic expression was raised for me in a way that it never has been before, even though I have written about my “private life” a lot in the past, (and also I have a suspicion my parents read my blog too, whoa). But it seems to matter more now for lots of reasons, not least of which because I am getting older and everything seems more complicated, even walking my dog, but also it seems like when I make decisions those decisions stick better, so I do not want to make a mistake in this capacity or in others.
After thinking about this issue for months (what to write, when, how?), I almost decided to delete my entire blog, and I did—kind of. I deleted everything I wrote when I was married and when I was divorcing. Which isn’t because I’m ashamed of those things, because I’m not. I loved my marriage, but also I feel proud of the way I exited it and began a new life, with sadness and fear, yes, but also without rancor or litigation or histrionics. So I want the things I write to exist ephemerally, at least for now, because that is the spirit in which they are and have always been composed, and they mean a lot to me, and also they mean nothing, and so when I felt this truth to be true deep down in my heart I decided that I must keep writing here, because writing is important and it helps me move through my life in a way that is sometimes raw and sometimes dignified, and that dichotomy is to me what expression through words is about, fundamentally. And I am so touched that it matters to you, too. Thank you for reading my words and for your bit of tenderness, which comes at a time when I very much need it!