I can name a few authors whose work I admire so much that I’ve read every book they’ve published and will always buy the newest release as well–assuming that the author is still publishing books. Dani Shapiro, author of five novels and two memoirs, is on that short list. When I heard that Shapiro had a nonfiction book called Still Writing coming this fall, I knew I had to get my hands on it as soon as possible.*
Still Writing will not disappoint readers who’ve liked Shapiro’s novels, memoirs, essays, and her blog. It’s part memoir that includes snippets of what was happening in her life while writing some of her books. We get details like where she was living and what some of the writing challenges and personal challenges were along the way. She artfully weaves in enough detail about the lowest moments such as her parents’ car accident and her son’s illness without delving into too much territory that she covered so thoroughly in her other memoirs, Slow Motion and Devotion. You get enough so that readers new to Shapiro’s writing have context for her advice.
Still Writing is not a standard memoir, however, which is why it will also not disappoint fans of books on the craft of writing by the likes of Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, and Stephen King. Shapiro talks about the realities of living a creative life with the patience and care of a teacher. She warns of the desire for solitude that most artists feel and the reality of remembering necessities of real life (such as being a parent, spouse, friend, and just a conscious member of society). She’s honest and realistic about the lure of distraction from the internet (guilty) and from everywhere else when a writer gets stuck. She’s honest about expectations from readers and about the business of writing. About writing without any of this other nonsense she says, “There is only one opportunity to write in complete darkness: when you’re at the beginning. Use it. Use it well.”
Shapiro teaches workshops and retreats around the world, but at this point in my life, attending something like that is not in the cards. I’m grateful that she’s poured some of her lessons into this book.
As for me, a writer mostly of essays these days, I especially loved this passage:
“It is the job of the writer to say, look at that. To point. To shine a light. But it isn’t that which is already bright and beckoning that needs our attention. We develop our sensitivity– to use John Berger’s phrase, our ‘ways of seeing’–in order to bear witness to what is. . . “
I highly recommend Still Writing for writers and artists of any kind.
*I was provided with a free egalley of Still Writing by netgalley.com, but the opinions expressed here are my own. It should also be noted that I pre-ordered a hardcopy because I absolutely had to add the book to my Shapiro collection. By the time this review runs I will have my real copy on my nightstand with my highlighter ready to go.