Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life is a gentle companion, filled with a myriad of antidotes that helps the writer on their own personal journey. The book is not a how-to guide in the least. It does not go over grammar, writing a sentence, or the like. It does, however, offer a how-to on surviving the sometimes lonely, frustrating, and doubting life that every writer knows intimately.
“To be still. To be grounded. To claim one’s place in the world.”
According to Shapiro the beginning is about finding space. Still Writing is broken into three loosely themed sections: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends.
The advice of beginning a novel coexists with a glimpse into the beginning of Shapiro’s writing life. In frank and honest prose, Shapiro talks of her childhood in terms of how it informed her writing. She goes into the usual complaints of writers facing a blank page: the censor, the ideas, the inability to move forward. Then taking those fears most writers face, she interweaves them with her own life and the wisdom she has gained through living those moments. The result is poignant at times, though bordering on cliché on occasion.
The Middles is about what came after her childhood, starting in on a life of writing, and finding her place. She speaks again of the fears that come along once you start to find your toehold in publishing. The writer’s routine enters here and the need to keep on keeping on when faced with life.
The Ends is as you would think it would be: “If you show up, if you spend many hours alone, if you wage a daily battle with your inner censor, if you endure, if you put one word in front of the next until a long line of words is formed, a line that could stretch halfway across your home, if you take two steps forward, three steps back, if you grapple with bouts of despair and hopelessness — there will come a time when you can sense that the end is not too far away.”
The Spark Note Version
Shapiro has written a writing companion that offers gems of comfort. It is the kind of book that you could pick up and flip through the pages, finding that line or paragraph that you need in order to keep focused, keep believing. That being said, however, there is quite a bit of Eastern philosophy and belief weaved through the pages with Yoga, Buddhism etc., which is not a deterrent for me but which might strike others as uncomfortable or just annoying.
Much of the advice contained is similar to what one would find in Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott or Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, but though the feeling is very similar (a sort of waving back and forth between advice and experience), Shapiro’s voice is uniquely her own. Like a particularly aware friend, one that has walked the path, knows the journey, Shapiro’s book on writing creates comfort for those treading in her footsteps. I would recommend it to anyone wanting a bit of a gentle companion along their own journey.
Shapiro has written two memoirs and five novels, along with contributing to a myriad of different venues. She taught at Columbia, NYU, The New School, and Wesleyan University, and is the co-founder of the Sirenland Writers Conference in Italy.
Disclosure: This book was received courtesy of Grove/Atlantic for review purposes.