January 24, 2020 at 4:05 pm #59017Jennifer LawlerKeymaster
The story of writing and of being a writer isn’t found in the slogans people post on Facebook, although they touch obliquely on the challenges. “You should be writing” is a popular meme, usually accompanied by a soulful-looking male model. The problem with slogans is they lack nuance. Ultimately this lack renders them useless, even harmful. We end up believing things that are not true.
I like to pin them to the wall above my computer just as much as the next person: I’m all for inspiration and guidance. “You should be writing” is neither. Maybe you should be writing, but maybe you should be hugging your daughter or fixing dinner. It’s the tension between writing, hugging, and dinner that creates the struggle. And it’s a struggle that isn’t solved by pretending that all you have to do is write no matter what. Writing isn’t the only thing in life or even the most important thing in life—and I say that as someone who has spent the last twenty years making her living at it.
Writing is tricky and tough and frustrating (and of course rewarding and amazing and yadda yadda). What I’ve used to get through the tricky/tough/frustrating times is a little something I like to call the writer’s grimoire.
What’s a grimoire? A grimoire is a book of spells, like a cookbook or a collection of recipes, but “cookbook” just doesn’t do it for me, and is possibly misleading in case people think food is involved, which it is not although it can be if that’s important to you. For a time I tried calling it a spellbook but then everyone I met thought I meant a dictionary so now I go with grimoire, even though a lot of people don’t know what that is or are faintly afraid of me when I say I keep one.
I use it to remind myself of things I can do that will inspire me, encourage my creativity, and affirm my creative process. I collect things (processes, affirmations, kind words people have said about my work, pictures I’ve drawn) and keep them in one place, which I can refer to when I’m feeling a little drained. It’s a lot of fun (a bit like scrapbooking) and it reminds me not to take the work So Seriously.
Just to be clear, I don’t use my grimoire to cast spells. I use it to help me remember what I already know about doing the work, which is a lot (I’ve been at this a very long time). I started using a grimoire for my writing work when years ago I started work on a series. You know how writers and publishers have a series bible so that you don’t forget from one book to the next that your hero has blue eyes and failed algebra in seventh grade? Like that. I called mine a grimoire instead of a bible because I’m just a rebel.
Anyway, I included potential storylines and conflicts and such and I realized that everything I needed to know about the series was in the series grimoire. If I got stuck, I just opened up the grimoire and the answer would appear.
I like to generalize from one thing to another, and it struck me that if it worked for a series, it would work for writing in general (and life itself, but that is another blog post). That is to say, I already know what I need to know about writing, I just forget it half the time, and so I need a reminder.
My grimoire contains what I know, or think I know, about writing. It includes all kinds of things I know I will need or think I might like to remember. So, for example, I keep a list of accomplishments on one of the pages because every now and then I hyperventilate about how I am never going to finish whatever it is I’m obsessing over, and the list helps me breathe again.
It has a little exercise I use for when I am working on a project that carries a lot of emotional weight, like my memoir, or some of my essays about my daughter Jessica (as opposed to other kinds of things I write about, such as what humanities graduates are doing with their degrees). I do a little meditation to segue into and out of emotionally difficult pieces so that my mind doesn’t get stuck in “oh those years were so hard” mode when I am supposed to be making dinner.
My grimoire is like a guidance system that says, “You have had this problem before, and here are some things that you tried, and here is how they worked.” That keeps me from feeling totally lost in the Sahara without a roadmap.
For example, I know by now that for every manuscript, there will be at least three times when I think the work is utter crap. But my grimoire will remind me that this is par for the course, and so instead of hitting delete, I go for a walk.
Do you keep a version of a grimoire?
January 25, 2020 at 7:50 pm #59549Adrienne PondParticipant
I love this! I’m so stealing it 🙂
February 18, 2020 at 10:20 am #71503Rachel PoeParticipant
This is a great idea! I will have to get started on my own grimoire (love that word)! Thanks!
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