I’ve been re-reading Wild Mind, Natalie Goldberg’s fantastic follow-up to Writing Down the Bones, which I found in a second hand book shop for £1. It’s quite possibly the best bargain I’ve ever found.
I’ve been quite late in coming to Natalie Goldberg, but now that I’ve found her books, I can see why she is so revered as a creative writing teacher.
If you haven’t read any of her books, she is like a cross between a creative writing tutor, an inspirational speaker and a Zen master. She gives practical advice and writing prompts, but more than that, particularly in Wild Mind, she talks a lot about ‘living the writer’s life’, (which is the subtitle of the book).
It’s one of those books I just dip in and out of, especially when I’m lacking inspiration or having a coffee break from struggling with putting together an article or piece of writing (often).
One chapter I re-read this morning got me to thinking: Who Gave you Permission? It’s an interesting concept. She talks about all writers having a person they feel gave them the permission to start or continue their life as a writer.
Goldberg is keen to point out, however, that she isn’t talking about actually asking for permission to write; not actually approaching someone and asking ‘Is it okay if I write?’ She stresses the point, in fact, that you should always write, whether you have found that permission-granter or not. She is talking more about this ‘permission’ being something deep and unspoken; an encouragement and friendship, somebody who understands your need to write on some deeper level.
At first, I wasn’t sure what she meant: why would I need permission to do something that I’ve done since I could first hold a pen in my hand? But as I considered the idea more closely, I realised that, throughout my life, there have been people scattered along the way who have made it okay to write. That have encouraged and cajoled and, often with unsaid words or simple actions, made me feel it is imperative that I always undertake this often frustrating need to put words onto paper.
Although Goldberg claims this person is usually another writer, someone who understands you and the writing life, I thought of people who, I feel, have given me ‘permission’ (often without realising it) to carry on writing.
In no particular order:
To my mother who first put a crayon into my hand and got me to write my name; then listened, patiently, to me reading out all my attempts at short stories and poems, which usually involved a spirited blonde haired girl achieving something amazing (no idea where that inspiration came from…).
To my junior school teacher Mrs Blakesley, who said she always looked forward to reading my stories and poems and told my parents: ‘I shall look forward to seeing her name on a book cover some day’.
To a local female writer who convinced me to send in some work to a literary magazine in which my poem got voted Editor’s Best Poem, and so lighted the touch-paper and boosted my confidence.
To the women’s magazine who first paid me to write for them.
To my friend and neighbour, (she will know who she is!) who calls me her ‘writer friend’, which makes me laugh, and which I can’t take too seriously.
To my children – my teenager, who follows my blog and cried when she read a short story I wrote (in a good way – I think); and my 8 year old, who proudly told another mum at school ‘my mummy’s an author’.
But the most important person who ‘gave me permission’ in the sense Goldberg talks of, on a deeper, supportive level, through friendship and quiet encouragement: my husband. Just for telling everyone he knows: ‘My wife is a writer, you know’. And for not thinking I’m wasting my time when I’m scribbling in the corner of the bedroom at my make-shift desk. Or not minding that the house has cobwebs and dust accumulating on every surface, despite the fact I’ve been in the house all day, ‘working on my writing’. Just for that.
As Goldberg says, you shouldn’t wait for anyone to give you permission, but it’s still nice to feel there are people around you who are saying ‘go ahead, write, create.’
Who gave you permission?