If, as I said in my last newsletter, writers’ lives are ruled by solitude and self-discipline, how then do we go about bringing light into the rooms of the mind where creativity comes to life? After all, we follow our calling for some reason. What compels us to face down our computers every day, and to hope for the apt words to come into our hearts and consciousness? For that matter, how does anyone follow his or her path, weathering the moments of frustration and the need for perseverance? For writers, it’s passion that shoves us along, but sometimes that passion is elusive. So, what fills in the gap?
Maybe the answer lies in the idea that all of us need compatriots. In my life, other people buoy me up when the process of writing–or living–needs balance. It’s probably not that different than the camaraderie you can find in your book or garden club, over lunch with your co-workers, or during any activity with others who share your vision. When I do editorial work with either a writer-to-be or one who already has an established platform of work, I find equilibrium. The pendulum of creativity shifts, and swings in the opposite direction, bringing the sun onto my desk.
I first learned how to share a fervent interest like this through my mother. Many afternoons, we sat together in her study and workshopped our poems and short stories; I developed nearly as much of a love for that intellectual process as I did for the writing itself. When I was in college, I even thought I would probably pursue a career as an editor in a publishing house. That was not to be, but my love of critiquing the written word continued to grow over time.
Sadly, and tragically, my mother left me before we had the time to tackle genres like fiction or memoir–both of which I would later pursue as seriously as she had poetry. I was only twenty-one when Mom committed suicide, but by then she had already educated me well in the art and craft of offering opinions and praise and gentle criticism.
Now I am able to carry it all forward. My mother shaped me not only as a human being and as a woman, but also as a writer who could contribute to the life of other writers. Nothing except the “juice” of inspiration that comes as I work on one of my own books brings me more professional pleasure than working with a client who wants to learn from me. Whether it be a young writer or one more mature, we brainstorm together over their work just as I once brainstormed with my mother. The happiness that accompanies my memories of and nostalgia for those times colors my experience and capability now as a coach, mentor, and editor.
I have discovered that the most effective way to help someone with their writing is not to tell him or her how to fix a problem–anymore than you should give good friends too much specific advice on the trials they may face in their life lest you become intrusive. Instead, I hold a mirror over the places that do not work, like a guide shining a flashlight on the many paths which can lead to improvement.
When everything snaps into place, and they understand and accept my point of view, their voices on the phone reflect the smiles on their faces, even as they groan about the work ahead of them. My comments have helped to spark their inspiration, and satisfaction always accompanies the knowledge that you’ve helped someone to face a challenge and move toward a goal that may well be hard won–be it with a student or a friend. How glad I am that this kind of work is once again a part of my life.
Maybe it is the universe–in a metaphysical sense–that brings us to those specific junctures in our lives, times at which we must choose a direction. Some people would see it as God’s hand touching down on our shoulders. All of this is executed in a slow and deliberate way, one that, initially, may seem mysterious to us.
By rediscovering important elements of my past, I now live in a world beyond the here and now of “me,” even as I sit here at my desk, in the shadowy solitude of creativity. From writer, to editor, to friend, to wife and mother–how comforting it is to know that I’m not by myself. For this I am indebted to you, Mom. What a magnificent gift!