A friend of mine has long proclaimed a childhood dream of being a talk show host. She says she could talk to anyone; over the years, I’ve observed this to be true. The skill flows from her endless fascination of people, which makes her an exceptional conversationalist.
We are opposites in this arena, for conversation is iffy for me—sometimes it flows easily, sometimes it gives me (and others) fits. Due to this waffle effect, I had previously concluded this difficulty originated with the one on the other end of the conversation. We might call this denial or blame shifting (or false hope). Whatever we call it, my assessment was wrong.
What my friend has taught me is that all people are interesting: some obviously so, others in a more obscure way. Those who are obviously interesting certainly make for easier conversation; but the obscure folks only need some prodding, some nudging, some digging, and there we find a wealth of intriguing details. A gifted conversationalist takes it upon herself to find the wealth in each person, whether that treasure sits at the surface or must be thoroughly excavated.
The tools of such a task include concentrated listening, artful inquiry, and creative transitioning. For gifted conversationalists like my friend, such work has been practiced and cultivated, making her the sort that everyone wishes to chat with.
In this week’s reading from The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, authored by Julia Cameron, I discovered another thread of faulty thinking (see my previous book club post for the first discovery) about the writing life that parallels my faulty thinking about conversing with people.
You see, I had wrongly assumed that an interesting life makes a writer’s work interesting to read.
My life has had a usual portion of difficulty and pain and drama, but my daily life is fairly plain. I work. I read. I run errands. I eat. I chat on the phone. I spend time with loved ones. Sometimes I even clean.
None of this in itself seems worthy of writing about.
When something of obvious interest plops in my lap, I gratefully take it up and write it out, unearthing all the fascinating angles and digging about to harvest every last bit of wealth.
Then I wait for the next happening. Writing about the plainness of daily life gets housed up in my journal, in scribbles and notes. Some of these commonalities do make it to my blog, which doesn’t seem to require the same level of importance as a blank manuscript page.
According to Cameron, I’ve been going about this all wrong.
Cameron says that “we are often so busy wanting to have a life as a writer that we forget that we have a life to write about.”1 How did Cameron know this of me? I write and scribble of daily life, thinking that these commonalities are not the things to write about. I tuck away words and phrases, little amusements and aches, not realizing the treasure I hold in my very hands.
I do not have to wait for life to take some outlandish turn so that I might have something of interest to share through writing. The things I am interested in, the things that happen here in my smallish patch of sky, those are the building blocks I’ve got.
It’s not an interesting life makes a writer’s work interesting to read.
Rather, an interested writer makes life interesting to read about.
As an interested writer, I will mimic my friend, the great conversationalist: I will let my heart grow evermore fascinated with what’s before me. I will take it upon myself to find the wealth in each situation and person, whether that treasure sits at the surface or must be thoroughly excavated. I will nurture concentrated listening, artful inquiry, and creative transitioning.
And then I will write.
1. Julia Cameron, The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life (New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, 1998), 32.