Writing is like breathing. I believe that. I believe we all come into life as writers. We are born with a gift for language and it comes to us within months as we begin to name our world. We all have a sense of ownership, a sense of satisfaction as we name the objects that we find. Words give us power.
-- Julia Cameron, The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life
I recently came across a used copy of The Right to Write by Julia Cameron. Because I was already in the process of developing my own writing practice, and because I had already recently picked up a copy of Cameron's The Artist's Way, I thought I'd give this one a try as well.
The book is laid out in a series of short chapters, each of which is composed of a brief but poignant essay on some aspect of the writing life and an "initiation", an exercise aimed to help the reader clarify his or her relationship to writing. The Right to Write is not a book on how to write. You will find no discussions of grammar, plot, character, or theme within its pages. Rather, it is a persuasive and gentle argument for the idea the writing is a natural human activity, a means of expression that is the province of all of us, not merely those individuals whom society has decided to designate as "writers." To Julia Cameron, writing is as natural as breathing, and life without writing is unthinkable - just as we need to live our lives fully in order to write deeply.
For those who have read her earlier book, The Artist's Way, there is some repeated material in The Right to Write. But, whether because this book was specifically focused on writing or because Cameron's writing style in this book has a more personal and mature tone, I found The Right to Write to be equally worthy of reading. Reading this book is like sitting down to an intimate conversation with an old friend, the kind of friend who knows you better than you know yourself and is endlessly encouraging and supportive. The Right to Write is not a book to rush through, but rather one to dip into whenever you need some fresh inspiration and encouragement to keep writing. I kept it sitting in the library for a couple of weeks, and every time I came in, I would sit and read a chapter or two. I had already been working on getting back to writing regularly again, and having the book on hand gave me an added impetus to persevere.
Some of the most interesting ideas within The Right to Write are Cameron's concept of letting the writing write through you and the idea of the writer as someone who listens and transcribes the words that he or she "hears", rather than consciously forcing the writing to go in a certain direction. Although this process ultimately remains mysterious to me, it is one that I have experienced myself many times. I have noticed that my best writing has always been done not when I am consciously picking my words, but rather when I simply put pen to page or hands to keyboard and let things go where they will. Where do the words come from? It often feels that the stories I am writing already exist out there, somewhere, somehow, and I am merely the conduit whereby they enter the world. Because of this, Cameron's spiritual approach to writing is one that simply makes sense to me, although I by no means understand why or how it works. Writing, as she constantly reminds us, does not need to be some arcane act. Writing can and should be an essential part of everyday life. Everyday life is spiritual practice. Writing is spiritual practice. This is what I have long believed, and it was a joy to find those same beliefs outlined in such a positive and heartfelt way in this book. It is also a message that I think is needed today, when so often the impression is that you need to be a published author in order to be a "real" writer. To Julia Cameron, we are all real writers, as soon as we start writing.
The Right to Write is, as I mentioned before, not a book on the techniques of writing. It is not the book you want if you are looking to hone your writing skills, or if you are looking for information on how to publish or sell your work. If you expect it to be any of those things, you will be disappointed. It is a book to take seriously. It would be easy to brush off many the ideas and exercises as "silly", "flaky", or "not right" for you. At one time, I probably would have done so myself. But I would suggest that if you find yourself doing that, then you might in fact be subconsciously blocked in some way and would therefore need the lessons in the book even more! Read it with an open mind.
The Right to Write is not a book about writing. It is a book about life. The writing life. Which can - and should be - everyone's life. I highly recommend it. Read it. And - even better - start writing.