Maya Angelou

I’m sure you’ve heard of the passing of Maya Angelou. She was an extraordinary person, worked more different jobs than one would care to count, withstood personal tragedy and abuse, and survived, never letting the challenges of life defeat her. She was actor, writer, singer, dancer, poet, director and producer of movies and television programs, and taught herself several languages. Since this blog is more about writing than anything else, I will quote her words about her process:

‘Nothing so frightens me as writing, but nothing so satisfies me. It’s like a swimmer in the (English) Channel: you face the stingrays and the waves and cold and grease, and finally you reach the other shore, and you put your foot on the ground – Ahhhh.’

‘I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music.’

‘I also wear a hat or a very tightly pulled head tie when I write. I suppose I hope that by doing that I will keep my brains from seeping out of my scalp and running in great gray globs down my neck, into my ears, and all over my face.’

There is interesting wisdom for me in these small quotes. First to acknowledge that even in a writer so great as she, she experienced great fear. I think that all writers experience this fear, but to have her openly state it and also openly state how she faced it, how she came to grips with it is reassuring and speaks to her strength of character. Second, the expression that writing was pervasive in her, a constant part of her, like breathing, resonates with me and tells me I’m not so very odd when I scribble in my tiny notebook whilst I’m out and about. But I think it is the last that appeals to me the most, a purely personal, purely individual expression of what she does to keep herself in her personal writing space. All writers have their little methods that work for them. For myself, when I’m writing in the voice of a particular character, I wear something that character would wear, whether it be a fedora, a particular piece of jewelry or a sword, like an actor wearing or using a prop. That helps me stay inside that character’s head. Each writer does is individual, so do whatever works for you, but hearing that from her reassures me that what I do is not so strange and I need not be embarrassed when my wife knocks on my study door and finds me at the typewriter banging away and singing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. It’s all part of the process, all part of the magic.

That was Maya, creator of magic.

She will be sorely missed. 

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