Author(s): Dani Shapiro
Year Published: 2014
When I decided to get serious about writing my first book, I didn’t do much writing. Instead, I read everything I could about the writing process. After all, isn’t it often said that to be a good writer, you have to read? However, in hindsight I was just stalling. I was terrified of finishing my book and putting it out in the world until I read Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life
Books I had read up to that point provided helpful advice by offering tips such as “keeping the reader engaged,” but Shapiro kept me engaged by giving me an honest look into her past and present life as a writer. Prior to reading her work, I had written numerous articles, thousands of technical documents, and many blogs, but I still didn’t see myself as a “real” writer until I saw the parallels between Shapiro’s work and my own.
She had me hooked from the very first chapter by addressing my tendency to procrastinate, reminding me that carpe diem isn’t necessarily cliché:
“I try to remember that to sit down and write is a gift. That if I don’t seize this day, it will be lost.”
In her chapter on “Ambition”, she spoke to my fears saying,
“No writer I know is confident in her work.”
Most of Shapiro’s book is more inspirational than a structured, step-by-step guide, which is what made it appealing to me.
However, she offers a practical approach to character building in her chapter on “Five Senses” by telling the reader to ask themselves pertinent questions in their creative writing:
“Is there a siren in the distance? A slamming door? A car alarm? Is she thirsty? Hung over? Does her back ache? Not all of this needs to end up on the page, but you need to know. Because knowing your character’s five senses will open up the world around her. It may even unlock the story itself.”
That may seem simplistic to some, but it offers a reminder to the novice and the seasoned writer that utilizing some of the most basic steps in writing can help in story development.
Throughout the book, Shapiro relays her personal stories, her mother being her most often used muse, keeping the reader intrigued, and revealing what made her into the writer she is today.
Her chapter on “Writing in the Dark” couldn’t have been more enlightening as she talks about a longing to return to a time when there were no expectations or ideas from others clouding her perceptions of herself:
“The time when you’re working on a first book is when the darkness is at its purest and most precious.”
Surprisingly, Shapiro’s straightforward approach in Still Writing results in a meaningful, encouraging read and she minces no words when writing:
“If you’re waiting for the green light, the go-ahead, the reassuring wand to tap your shoulder and anoint you as a writer, you’d better pull out your thermos and folding chair because you’re going to be waiting for a good long while.”
Ironically, that’s just the green light I needed.
Donna Streetenberger is a technical writer with a bachelor’s degree in corporate management. Her first book, Not Exactly Nightingale was written under the pseudonym, “D. J. Street.” She is also a professional genealogist who enjoys writing about family history. Her “Weird Relatives” blog can be found at: http://www.researchheritage.com/weird-relatives-blog.html