Lately I realized that 20 years of making a living as a writer have taught me a lot. People ask me for advice; then they take it. And I usually have a very clear idea of what to tell them.
It took a while to get used to thinking of myself as a hard-headed marketer and negotiator. My ambition was to write literary nonfiction, like my books about homeless women and about women and sacrifice. Each was based on a central image that I used as a method of analysis.
Those books got considerable praise (and one got two awards), but didn't go far toward supporting me. So I wound up operating on both sides of the divide between skill and inspiration:
- Writing chapters of medical reference books for lawyers, I was required to be boring. The challenge was to translate medical jargon into clear layman's language and lay it out logically.
- Writing my book about the place of homeless women in our society, which was organized around the image of the witch, I felt truly like a channel: as though my deepest insights weren't mine at all but coming through me, from someplace else.
The first was craft; the second, inspiration.
Inspiration feels wonderful. It's profoundly satisfying to connect with a level of insight way beyond my normal thinking mind. But craft satisfies too.
I discovered that over years of constructing other people's books, training manuals, websites, reports, grant proposals, flyers, press releases ... etc. I had developed a level of skill I've only recently become aware of. This work is satisfying, too-it's like putting together the pieces of a complicated puzzle. There's aesthetic satisfaction in seeing them lock into place to create a clearly articulated construction.
And as I gear up to begin my next "literary" work, I bet these skills will come in handy.
Causes Stephanie Golden Supports
Insight Meditation Society, Barre, MA
Brooklyn for Peace
New York Insight Meditation Center
Coalition for the Homeless