the good, the bad, and the ugly about the writing life

Are You Worthy?

Are You Worthy?

Somewhere toward the end of my writing classes, I haul out my fairy godmother wand and waggle it at my students.

“POOF,” I say. “You are WRITERS!”

They look at me as if I have lost my mind. (This is a common occurrence when I’m teaching.)

“Rats,” I say, “I forgot to read the bit from the book first.” I sigh, slide my wand to the desk behind me, and find my copy of Natalie Goldberg’s book, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life.

I write the name of the book and the author on the board. I tell my students that they should buy this book. They should also buy another book of hers that I own: Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. I hold up both books and say that I’ll pass them around the class later, so they can look at them.

In fact, I tell them they should buy ALL the Natalie Goldberg books they can find. Or borrow them from the library. (Maybe it’s becoming clear why my students often think I’m quite mad.)

Then I open my dog-eared copy of the book complete with a wrinkled pink Post-It note to mark my spot, and I read the essay, “Who Gave You Permission?”

In the interests of fair use, I’m not going to quote the whole piece here, but they are the best words I have ever read about being a writer:

But there’s someone further along the path, who gives you the nod, who says yes, who adores literature as much as you and so gives you permission to love this odd thing all the way and to continue with it in the face of everything.

When I say “you ask permission,” I do not mean you have to go to someone higher up on the totem pole and inquire, Is it okay if I write? Write before you ask anyone. As a matter of fact, never ask anyone; always write … It’s more like you stand shoulder to shoulder, looking out at the vista, and the older writer points and says, “See,” and you nod and smile, knowing that the vista is good and sweet and you always want it in front of you…

A seasoned novelist had given me the nod. After she left, I sat on my bed, thinking, “I want to be a writer more than anything else. That’s what I want to leave to future generations. If I stay true to this path, I won’t be afraid to die when it’s my time.” I felt an invisible thread pulling me through my life. I wouldn’t be so afraid to die because I would have been busy dying in each book I wrote, learning to get out of the way and letting my characters live their own lives.

When I read the essay to my students, I try to pause for a couple beats at the end. I’m hoping they are soaking it in, steeping.

I grab my wand once again and wave it across and down and all around.

“Poof!” I say. “you are WRITERS!”

Mostly, they get it.

Giving You the Nod

So I say to YOU out there, a VIRTUAL poof, “You are WRITERS!” If you need permission.

Finding the Books

Here’s the citation for what I have quoted:

Excerpts from “Who Gave You Permission” in Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life, by Natalie Goldberg, Bantam Books, 1990, pp.123-125.

Here’s where you can find your own copies of the books:

Natalie Goldberg books on

Natalie Goldberg books from Women and Children First Independent bookstore

The Last Word

If I could, I would task my students with memorizing a passage or two of Natalie Goldberg. Ages ago I made my middle-school students memorize a sonnet from Shakespeare. Some words are so wonderful that you want them with you wherever you are—especially when the WiFi is out or come the Zombie Apocalypse. (Grin)

The Writer’s Club

Are you worthy? You bet you are! You are a writer if you write. It really is that simple.

Being a writer is a tough enough job without people trying to keep you out. If you think you might be a writer, you are.

It’s not an exclusive club, and the writers I know are a generous bunch. So go thou and do likewise. Share what you have with the world.


And thanks go out to my behind-the-scenes partner in crime, Shauna St. Clair, who is also my sister. She provided the beautiful graphics for today’s post.

And, Finally

Chapter Six of my cozy mystery novel, Death and the Motherlode, is now posted on Wattpad. In this installment, amateur sleuth Paulette Goddard gets grilled by Lt. Karlson’s partner. Read it here.

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