Monday, July 21, 2014

Reads for Writers: My Writing Life by Ellen Gilchrist

From Kate's Writing Crate…

         Ellen Gilchrist lives her life on her own terms. She married four times, gave birth to and raised three sons, and has twelve grandchildren. She studied writing with Eudora Welty. She lives alone happily writing, teaches college students to write better, and then immerses herself with family and friends for balance.

She started writing seriously at forty, winning a National Book Award. To date, she has written novels, essays, short stories, and novellas including a collection of over 50 essays entitled The Writing Life which captures both her joy of writing as well as teaching writing.

On page 68, Gilchrist states: "Why do I come back to the typewriter so headily each morning? Because it feels good. The brain is easily addicted to feeling good and nothing on earth, with the exception of great sex, feels as good as having written well and truly in the morning. Actually it is better than sex because you control the whole activity and the afterglow can last for years if the work is published and other people profit from it. The lasting pleasure is not in their praise but in your knowledge that you have contributed something of value to the culture from which you derive your being."

        Gilchrist lives with élan as we all should.

In her essay "How Books Still Change Our Lives," Gilchrist brings you into not only her cul-de-sac neighborhood, but up the hill into her home made mostly of glass. The description of her house, the music she loves, and her reverence for art and her artist friends/neighbors give readers a look into her delightful, creative life.

        In her essay "The Shakespeare Group," she shares that seven or eight friends—poets, writers, an actress—meet at her home every Sunday afternoon to read the plays of Shakespeare aloud. One play every Sunday from beginning to end. Just for fun. Three times through as of the writing of this essay.

        As she notes, "…need to read all thirty-eight to learn that even the greatest writer who ever lived was a novice to begin with, and then got better, and better, and better and better, until he became the best, past, present, and forevermore." (page13) "No one could tire of them. They are not only plays. They are great poetry and they contain novels, essays, stand-up comedy routines, satire, metaphor raised to the tenth power." (page 14)

        As a writing teacher, Gilchrist considers the writing profession from a new perspective. How to inspire students? She highly recommends reading On Writing by Ernest Hemingway. She notes, "If you want to learn how to make characters move around and do things, open up Huckleberry Finn to any page and start reading. No one does it better than the old master, Mark Twain." (page 122)

        Other creative advice from Gilchrist: "Create characters. Think up something for them to do. Start writing. Tell the story and be sure to make it ring true. Believe in the story your imagination gives you. Stick to it. Don't worry about what anyone is going to think when they read it." (page 125)

But she also reminds her students that "Love and marriage and children and broken hearts and disappointments and dreams that don't come true are the stuff of poetry and fiction." (page 139) "…you have to be living a life full of other interests besides writing at the same time that you are writing every day whether you are inspired or not." (page128)    

        The gift she gives writers, besides her books, is the knowledge that we can give ourselves a creative life like hers. We can write in the mornings to give our days an afterglow; we can read Shakespeare plays aloud and in order, along with reading other classics, to appreciate and learn from great writing; we can listen to music we love; gather together with other writers and artists; and be inspired by the happenings in our own lives.


No comments:

Post a Comment