Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004
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****Seven Steps on the Writer's Path

The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment

by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott

Reviewed May 25, 2004.
Ballantine Books, New York, 2003.  241 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (808.02 LOT).
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004, #1, Nonfiction for Writers

If you’ve ever wanted to write, you will love the book Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path.   This isn’t a book of techniques, it’s a book of inspiration, a book that will help you understand the process of being a writer and the path you will take.

The first step is Unhappiness.  People who are perfectly happy not writing don’t write.  It’s that simple.  The authors give us lots of examples and lots of encouragement.  When we know that this is a natural step of writing, we won’t despair when we hit Step One.

The second step is Wanting.  “Even if wanting it makes you feel bad for a while, even if you stand a good chance of not getting what you want, even if you suffer for it, even if other people suffer for it, you’ve got to want it, or you may as well just forget it.”  The authors remind us that “Whether in fiction or in real life, there’s nothing so powerful as desire.”  You need to want to write enough to actually do it.  “If you want to write, you do what you have to do to make it happen, whether you have the time or not, and whether you have the energy or not.  It’s wanting that drives you to make the time; it’s wanting that gives you the energy.”

I thought an interesting insight in the chapter on this step is that you can get an idea of the sort of books you should write by looking at which writers you’re jealous of.  I’ve finally noticed that a certain type of book makes me wish I had written it.  So now I’m trying to write that type of book.

Step Three on the writer’s path is Commitment.  In this step, you commit yourself to actually writing.  They remind us:  “We can only say that we ensure failure by not committing and that every time we’ve risked something and failed, we’ve also learned something important along the way.  For us, that makes commitment essential for success and worthwhile even in failure.”

I especially liked this insight, quoted from Judy Goldman:  “I kept waiting for someone to tell me, ‘Don’t do so many errands.  Don’t be such a good mother and wife.  Don’t run such an efficient household.’  But no one in the world was ever going to tell me that!  I had to learn to be a medium mother and wife, to run a semiefficient household.  I had to put writing at the top of my list and the drugstore and dry cleaner’s at the bottom.  That’s the real secret:  we think that if we run all our errands, then we can sit down and write.  That’s wrong.  First, we get our writing in.  Then we tackle the to-do list.”

Unfortunately, Step Four is another difficult one:  Wavering.  This is when you doubt your commitment and whether you can really do this.  It’s nice to know it’s a perfectly normal step after commitment.

Step Five is Letting Go.  This is when you decide you still will write, even if it doesn’t come out perfect.  As quoted from Barbara Sher:  “You don’t need endless time and perfect conditions.  Do it now.  Do it today.  Do it for twenty minutes and watch your heart start beating.”  This is a scary step, so again it’s good to know that it’s normal.

Step Six is Immersion.  Here’s where “flow” happens.  Now you’re caught up in the writing, and it’s coming out.  Still, there are two halves to this step:  preoccupation and resolve.  “Being preoccupied with your writing is a result of resolve and often seems so easy and joyous that it hardly feels like working.”

The authors remind us that although this step can feel good, it’s also where the hard part comes.  “This is the step that people tend to underestimate the most.  They don’t understand that, on the whole, and in spite of those moments of bliss, writing is damned hard work for most of us.”  They also warn us that we’ll feel incompetent, but that “if you can stand being incompetent, you can do anything.”

Finally, the seventh step on the writer’s path is Fulfillment.  This can be publication, or it can be simply getting a good paragraph written.  But it is a reason for celebration!

There are pitfalls as well with this step.  One is to yearn so hard for the end of the process that you forget to enjoy the process.  The authors say that writing can be like knitting.  “The trick, we believe, is to love the knitting and to get that done first.”  I can relate to that.  Knitting goes so slowly, I long ago learned that if I’d better not focus on getting a product finished but on the fun of the knitting itself.  I need to look at writing that way as well, or I go crazy.

The other aspect of Fulfillment, though, is that you should celebrate when you’ve accomplished a goal.  And make your goals small, so you have lots of reasons to celebrate.  Nancy Pickard shared that once she got a shipment of her newly published books and almost just pushed it to one side.  Celebrate!  Even though I’m looking forward to the day I have a book published, I should celebrate each time I finish a chapter, each time I send something out.

The Writer’s Path isn’t a dead end road.  The truth is, it’s a circular path, one that writers travel over and over again.  This book is an insightful and helpful guide for that path.  Even though the library has a copy, now I want to get a copy for myself, because I’m sure I’ll want to refer to it again and again for encouragement as I try to stay on the path.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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