Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Faculty Voices with Claire Rudolf Murphy: Writing Past Dark (The Transformative Success)

Claire Rudolf Murphy
Hello, Inkpot Readers. In the conclusion of Phyllis’ touching post last week she said, “I will tell those younger selves (and the self I am now), “Darlin’, you’re going to be all right.”

In her February post Jackie asked us what we writers do “to feed our spirits and our creative selves.”

Reading has “fed” me and made me feel “all right,” since I was a young girl. I needed some books in the last weeks to pep me up when I returned from our January residency. My bronchitis dragged on and on, and Claire was a glum girl, lying on the couch instead of writing. I loved reading my dear Alaskan friend Deb Vanasse’s first adult novel
Cold Spell, especially since I know the backstory of her writing life and the Alaskan setting. But I could only skim her other one: What Every Author Should Know: No Matter What You Publish. It’s chock full of helpful information. But learning about the changing world of publishing didn’t help to get me writing.

While searching online about writers and procrastination, I came across a quote from this book: Writing Past Dark: Envy,Fear Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life. Like most writers my shelves are filled with craft books and books about the writing life. But I’d never seen this one by Bonnie Friedman. A quote from our fiction guru Janet Burroway convinced me to get a copy: “If you think writing is a lonely task and you can afford one book, buy this one.”

I was so taken with Friedman’s introduction that I started underlining it (until I remembered it was a library book.) Her introduction and ending chapter featured the meatiest material:
“Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties.”
Get thyself to the computer, Claire, and write some sentences, any sentences.

About how her graduate writing students are waiting for an outer sign that they are “brilliant,” Friedman writes:
"Because they are waiting, they do not write as hard as they can. And because they assume someday writing will feel different from the way it does now, they squander many true gifts. . . . that when they are successes they will be entitled to take time from family or take more risks, their doubts will be rinsed away, they will know their work’s importance . . . When they are successes they will deserve to be happy.”
So writers at any stage of their career need to find happiness/satisfaction in the daily work. If we don’t, if we keep waiting for that outer sign of success and recognition, we’ll always be unsatisfied and anxious. And that state hardly produces the best writing or any at all.
“I live in dread that the story I am currently writing resembles those that have been rejected . . . it feels as if my new writing comes from the exact same place. . . Yet our finest writing will certainly come from who we already are and how we already write.” (p. 146)
Oh, that trust issue again. Trusting our voice and our unique talents.
Friedman concludes the book with these words:
“To love our lives right now – that is the transformative success. To see what is already beautiful – that is what is the astonishing strength.”
Of course it’s not as easy as that. We have to relearn every day how to love the work. Rereading and thinking about Friedman’s insights finally got me off the couch, and back to my work. But if all if this is just too heavy to think about right now, try this fun and brilliant book: WildThings! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature (Bird, Danielson, Sieruta).

Now that I’ve got my inner writing life all figured out and happiness reigns, I’m working on inserting more mischief in life and writing. But first I am cheering for my Gonzaga basketball teams – both the women and the men’s teams made it into the Sweet Sixteen during March Madness, along with MFAC alum Elizabeth Schoenfeld’s Duke Blue Devils and MFAC alum Randall Bonser’s Michigan State team. All three of us have been inspired to put in good writing time before every game. According to our beloved Kate DiCamillo that means two hours or two pages a day. We can do that, right?


  1. Love this post, Claire! May even reference it at www.twowrtingteachers.wordpress.com--where I'm blogging daily with a group of teachers/writers for the Month of March, the Slice of Life Challenge. I've had my peaks and valleys, and putting my words out there have helped bring me back to life. Hoping to get my MG novel out of stall mode and back in gear! You've inspired me to get off the couch as well!

  2. And my UNC Tarheels!!! This post is so wonderful, Claire, and it is EXACTLY what I needed today. I'm going to read it over and over until it takes....Miss you xox

  3. This is really an awesome article Claire, you have explained them well. I like your accent too. I have bookmarked this page for reading upcoming posts. You can read my articles in cheap essay writing service blog posts.

  4. Great to have another team to cheer for, Donna. Go Tarheels. Can't wait to hear more about your creative thesis. I am focused writing this week. We can't expect our teams to bring their best effort if we don't give ours to the writing.

  5. Claire, you always say exactly what I need to hear. Thank you for your wise words.

  6. So do you, Phyllis, my friend. Into the sunset we write .... Go, Zags.