Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Right to Ignore Julia Cameron

So I've heard all sorts of people, first- and second- and third-hand, rave about Julia Cameron--The Artist's Way, the morning pages, etc., etc. And it sounded like she might provide some good inspiration, hand-holding, encouragement, whatever. And that she does. I've been skimming through her book The Right to Write, and she says a few things that feel true enough to me, and useful enough, that I've typed them out into my file (or, one of my files) of quotes. Here's something I like: "The obsession with time is really an obsession with perfection. We want enough time to write perfectly. We want to write with a net under ourselves, a net that says we are not foolish spending our time doing something that might not pay off." I like her when she's being pragmatic, steering me toward writing as craft rather than (necessarily) Art.

But then there's the whole business, on every page practically, about how writing wants to be written, you're only the vessel, etc., which is just plain too mystical for me. I don't doubt that it feels that way to many writers--that some force outside their consciousness is directing their stories or poems--but I'd chalk it up to something within the writer rather than an external force, a Higher Power. Maybe my magical thinking days really are over, or the Buddhism hasn't yet kicked in.

And then she tells us what she said to the woman who's dyslexic and can't spell: "Just use spell check," I told her. "Or even just a dictionary. . . . It doesn't matter if you 'can't' spell. We've got computer programs to do it for you." Christ almighty--that again. I have no problem with the spirit of her advice--I agree, the dyslexic woman ought to just write and not let her spelling worries hobble her. But what she's going to need once the writing's done isn't spell-check or some computer program: she's going to need an intelligent proofreader. Does Julia Cameron really imagine that her own books have gone straight from machine to machine, from her computer to the publisher to the printer? Judging from the dearth of errors in the edition I'm reading, this one's gone through a refining process that involved careful scrutiny by skilled humans, probably at several different stages.

And then the paragraph that made me toss the book down in disgust: "I am thinking back to high school. We have been assigned to read The Scarlet Letter. I find the book boring despite its adultery. I find particularly annoying the long passages about nightfall and burning sticks and the way the light fell or didn't fall against the moors. It is now thirty years later and what I remember of The Scarlet Letter is not Hester Prynne's plight but those images of flickering firelight dancing on the moors."

Maybe Hawthorne's an acquired taste; maybe I shouldn't roll my eyes, or let my lip curl with scorn, when someone calls The Scarlet Letter boring. To each her own. But "moors"? WTF is she talking about? "Flickering firelight"? She "remembers" even less about The Scarlet Letter than she thinks she does. Moors? In New England? "Mood," yes, that word's in there a lot, and so is "moon," but "moors" and the "flickering firelight" dancing thereon she must have gotten from Wuthering Heights and/or some Hardy novel. And because she trusts "computer programs" to fix such problems, and evidently didn't see the need to engage a literate copyeditor, her ignorance is now blissfully enshrined in type.

So much for The Right to Write. Back to Assyriana...

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