The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation Into the Writing Life

The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation Into the Writing Life

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by Julia Cameron, Putnam, Jeremy P Tarcher

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What if everything we have been taught about learning to write were wrong? In The Right to Write, Julia Cameron's most revolutionary book, the author of such national bestsellers as The Artist's Way and The Vein of Gold asserts that conventional writing wisdom would have you believe in a doctrine that is false and that stifles creativity. "It is


What if everything we have been taught about learning to write were wrong? In The Right to Write, Julia Cameron's most revolutionary book, the author of such national bestsellers as The Artist's Way and The Vein of Gold asserts that conventional writing wisdom would have you believe in a doctrine that is false and that stifles creativity. "It is human nature to write!" Cameron declares as she systematically dismantles the mythology surrounding the writing life in our culture. Instead of driving people away from what they desire most, she reveals the secrets of breaking loose from the grip of established thought processes. She illustrates how to unleash within each of us a wave of creativity striving to express itself. With the techniques and illustrative stories in The Right to Write, readers are shown how to make writing a natural, intensely personal part of life. Cameron's instruction and examples include the details of her very own writing processes while creating her own bestselling books. Cameron's tools make writing a playful and practical as well as profound experience. For those jumping into the writing life for the first time and for those already living it, the art of writing will never be the same after reading The Right to Write. It is a provocative, thoughtful, and exciting book that readers will return to again and again, as they bear witness to the sheer unadulterated joy of putting words to the page.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Anyone who has ever seen the piles of unsolicited manuscripts in a publishing house knows that far more books get written than get published. All over the world, in all different circumstances, people make time to write. And, of course, there are the people who wish they could find time to write but can't. And then there are the people who like the idea of writing but don't fancy themselves any good at it. There are also the people who think of themselves as bad writers and stay as far away from pen and paper as humanly possible. But according to Julia Cameron, author with Mark Bryan of the bestseller The Artist's Way, all of these people have something in common. Cameron believes that everyone can find a better life through writing, that "we should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing is good for the soul. We should write because writing yields in us a body of work, a felt path through the world we live in. We should write, above all, because we are writers whether we call ourselves writers or not." Cameron begins by breaking down many of the stereotypes of who writes and why they do it. She reminds us how what was "well-written" in school was often more about form than substance. She wonders what would be different if we came to the idea of writing in the same way we approach white-water rafting — something fun, adventurous, challenging. There is a great lesson here. Cameron demonstrates how truly limiting the contexts in which the practice of writing isgenerallypromoted are. Having done this, The Right to Write gives the newly liberated pen-wielder a series of exercises that represent writing as a simple, clear expression of where we are and what we think about it. One exercise asks the writer to spend 15 minutes writing five postcards to friends. Not a challenge? Cameron's point is to break down the common delusion that we'd write if we had time to do so. Another "initiation tool," as Cameron calls them, has writers spending half an hour writing a make-believe tabloid story. By indulging "bad writing," Cameron hopes to loosen the grip of perfectionism. Through these tools and more, THE RIGHT TO WRITE adds up to a gentle initiation for the shy writers among us, the would-be novelists, the discouraged, and the cynical. She is convincing in her assertion that writing is a gift, a unique means of expression, from which we all can privately benefit. Hilary Liftin is a writer living in New York and director of editorial development at BookWire ( Her first book, coauthored with Kate Montgomery, will be published next spring.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.82(w) x 8.56(h) x 0.94(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


    I am sitting at a small pine table, facing east toward the Sangre de Cristo foothills. My "view" has a horse tank that needs filling, a white fence with a small robin's-egg-blue gate, a birdbath in terra-cotta with some of its figurines knocked off, a bright yellow garden hose, I will use to fill the horse tank and the birdbath, an overgrown garden plot, a bucket lying on its side, my small dog, Maxwell, soaking in the early spring sunlight like an optimistic sunbather on a chilly beach day. When it warms up and that yellow hose has thawed out, I will fill the horse tank. When I warm up, I will tell you what I know about letting yourself write.

    The first trick, the one I am practicing now, is to just start where you are. It's a luxury to be in the mood to write. It's a blessing but it's not a necessity. Writing is like breathing, it's possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what.

    Writing is like breathing. I believe that. I believe we all come into life as writers. We are born with a gift for language and it comes to us within months as we begin to name our world. We all have a sense of ownership, a sense of satisfaction as we name the objects that we find. Words give us power.

    As toddlers, first we grab and then we grab with words. Every word we learn is an acquisition, a bit of gold that makes us richer. We catch a new word and say it over and over, turning it like a rich nugget in the light. As children, we hoard and gloat over words. Words give ownership: we name our world and we claim it.

    As children, we learn new words at an astonishing clip. Words give us leverage: "Me go with Mommy!" Or, "Mommy stay" Children are specific and direct. They don't beat around the bush. Their words are personal and powerful. They are filled with will and intent. They are filled with passion and purpose. Children trust the power of words.

    If words give us power, when do we start to lose our power over words? When do we start to feel that some of us are "good" at language and even have a shot at being "writers" while the rest of us just happen to use it and don't dare consider ourselves in that league?

    My guess is that for most of us school is where this sorting starts to happen. School is where we are told, "You're good with words ..." The neat teacherly scrawl, diagonally written across the top right-hand corner of the top page of, say, a geography report on Scandinavia, "Well written."

    Well written--what does that mean? In school it usually means clear, orderly thinking. Neat enough grammar. Lots of orderly facts. It may also mean things we are taught, like "topic sentences" and "transitions." Very often it does not mean words that sing off the page, innovative word combinations, paragraphs of great free associations and digressions--all the gifts a young poet or novelist might have and want to use but not find useful under the scholarly discipline of an academic paper.

    What happens when writing of that kind shows up in school papers? Too frequently, it's another margin quote, this time negative: "You stray from the topic a bit here" or "Stick to the point." It is a rare teacher who takes the time and care to praise the kind of writing that doesn't fit into an academic paradigm. It's as though scholastically we're on a pretty strict diet: "Not so much pepper here."

    Not so much pepper. Not so much spunk. Not so much humanity, please. Academically we are inclined to a rather pedestrian prose denuded of personality and passion, perhaps even a bit elevated in tone as if writing is something to be done only from the loftiest of motives, a kind of distillate of rationalism trickled onto the page.

    In countries and situations where writing is forbidden, it takes on primacy. In prisons, people scratch their message into stone, onto dirt. On desert islands, messages are shoved into bottles and set to sea. When communication is made to seem actively impossible, the human will to communicate rears its head and people willingly risk death and dismemberment to do it.

    This is healthy.

    In our current culture, something much less healthy is afoot. Writing is not forbidden, it is discouraged. Hallmark does it for us. We shop for the card that is "closest" to what we wish to say. Schools drill us about how to say what we want to and the how-to involves things like proper spelling, topic sentences, and the avoidance of detours so that logic becomes the field marshal and emotion is kept at bay. Writing, as we are taught to do it, becomes an antihuman activity. We are forever editing, leaving out the details that might not be pertinent. We are trained to self-doubt, to self-scrutiny in the place of self-expression.

    As a result, most of us try to write too carefully. We try to do it "right." We try to sound smart. We try, period. Writing goes much better when we don't work at it so much. When we give ourselves permission to just hang out on the page. For me, writing is like a good pair of pajamas--comfortable. In our culture, writing is more often costumed up in a military outfit. We want our sentences to march in neat little rows, like well-behaved boarding-school children.

    Burn down the school. Save the books, perhaps, but get the teacher to tell you the real secrets: What does he write and read as a guilty pleasure? Guilty pleasure is what writing is all about. It is about attractions, words you can't resist using to describe things too interesting to pass up. And forget lofty motives.

    I don't write from lofty motives--I never have. In sixth grade, when I wrote my first (very) short stories, it was to snag the attention of Peter Mundy--Peter was a newcomer to St. Joseph's grade school, Mrs. Klopsch's class. He'd moved north from Missouri. He brought a southern accent and chestnut hair, hair the color of a jar of Tupelo honey, a physical look as sweet as the something southern that whispered through his voice. I wanted Peter to be my boyfriend. I wanted him to notice me. And so, I set about wooing him by writing him stories.

    Twenty years later, long after he'd dated Peggy Conroy instead of me, Peter told me I had captured his heart with my writing, "I just chickened out."

    Peter may have chickened out, but in the act of chasing him with pencil and paper, I discovered a bigger chase, the thrill of chasing anything with words.

    Writing is a lot like driving a country blacktop highway on a hot summer day. There is a wavery magical spot that shimmers on the horizon. You aim toward it. You speed to get there, and when you do, the "there" vanishes. You look up to see it again, shimmering in the distance. You write toward that. I suppose some people might call this unrequited love or dissatisfaction. I think it's something better.

    I think it's anticipation. I think it's savoring. I think it's tasting a great meal from its scent on your nostrils. I do not have to eat freshly baked bread to love it. The scent is nearly as delicious, nearly as much the satisfaction as the thick slice of bread slathered with butter and homemade apricot jam.

    The brain enjoys writing. It enjoys the act of naming things, the processes of association and discernment. Picking words is like picking apples: this one looks delicious.


The act of writing, the aiming at getting it right, is pure thrill, pure process, as exciting as drawing back a bow. Hitting a creative bull's-eye, a sentence that precisely expresses what you see shimmering on the horizon--those sentences are worth the chase--but the chase itself, the things you catch out of the corner of your eye, that's worth something too. I love it when I write well, but I love it when I write, period.

    When I began this essay, it was a blue, cloudless day. As I finish it, big weather has come up. Fat, dark clouds are spitting a petulant rain. The wind is gusting in stiff puffs fragrant with spring. I don't need to fill the horse tank. The rain is doing that nicely. My little Maxwell has come inside and is cuddled by my feet. The day, like this essay, began one place and moved to something else entirely.

    Kabir tells us, "Wherever you are is the entry point," and this is always true with writing. Wherever you are is always the right place. There is never a need to fix anything, to hitch up the bootstraps of the soul and start at some higher place. Start right where you are.

    Left to its own devices, writing is like weather. It has a drama, a form, a force to it that shapes the day. Just as a good rain clears the air, a good writing day clears the psyche. There is something very right about simply letting yourself write. And the way to do that is to begin, to begin where you are.


Initiation Tool

This tool puts you directly into the water. Take three sheets of 8 1/2 by 11 paper. Start at the top of page one and for three pages describe how and what you are feeling right now. Begin where you are--physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Write about anything and everything that crosses your mind.

    This is a free-form exercise. You cannot do it wrong. Be petty, critical, whining, scared. Be excited, adventurous, worried, happy. Be whatever and however you are at this moment. Get current. Feel the current of your own thoughts and emotions. Keep your hand moving and simply hang out on the page. When you have finished writing three pages, stop.

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The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Richard_Szponder More than 1 year ago
Having delved into Julia Cameron's best-selling book, The Artist's Way, a self-help guide to unblocking creativity and realizing artistic potential, I've been exploring her other books as well. The Right to Write is rooted in the same fundamentals as The Artist's Way. But whereas The Artist's Way is more a workshop in book format supporting all types of creativity (writing, painting, acting, filmmaking, etc.), The Right to Write is a collection of essays finely tailored specifically to writers. Cameron firmly believes, and states frequently, that everyone can and should write. By writing, she explains, we get to know ourselves better. By writing about what we truly care about, rather than for current market trends, we have the potential to create something magnificent, something that creates new market trends. So many writing instruction books focus specifically on the craft: how to structure sentences, how to create memorable characters, how to move plot forward, etc. These books all assume that the writer has established a writing routine and is already writing. What about those would-be writers struggling to get started or writers whose creativity is blocked? Cameron delivers not a "how to write" manual, but rather a "how to be a writer" manual. Cameron makes a point of dealing with and dismissing common myths about writers (writers must be miserable loners; writers must be published to be real writers; only those people with brand new original ideas should write). She clearly explains that everyone has original ideas because everyone is an original human being. Cameron also delves into several topics very uncomfortable for most writers: procrastination, the ability to get published, dealing with criticism and negative feedback from others, and making yourself vulnerable by putting your writing out there for the world to see. Critical to this text is Cameron's examination of the issues and events in our lives that may have contributed to blocked creativity. From lack of encouragement by parents and friends to not spending enough time nurturing the inner artist and spending time alone, Cameron gives solid advice as to how the would-be or blocked writer can tackle these issues and overcome their influence. Several of the essays begin with detailed descriptions of the sights, scents, weather, and décor of the environments in which Cameron is creating these essays. While the point is made that environment can impact how a writer is writing and what she is writing about, the details are overkill. At several points, the reader wants to say, "Get to the point." Also interwoven into the essays are other experiences within Cameron's personal life: comments on relationships with her daughter, friends, and lovers. This commentary, while making the point that writing is a form of therapy, is almost uncomfortable at times, as the reader may not be used such personal passages when reading a manual on writing instruction. With The Right to Write, Julia Cameron has created a text critical to any writer's collection of how-to manuals. Whereas most books in this category assume they are dealing with active writers, Cameron focuses on helping the struggling writer implement sustainable habits that promote a constant flow of creative ideas that result in deeply productive writing sessions.
slimikin More than 1 year ago
The Right to Write is a great all-purpose writing book. It's perfect for a number of writers: those who are new to writing; those who are interested in writing but perhaps intimidated by the thought of putting pen to paper; those who've been writing awhile but find themselves blocked; even those who just want to put a little playfulness back into the work of the writing they already do. In The Right to Write, Julia Cameron offers several short insights into a writer's lifestyle, each accompanied by an exercise. Some may appeal to the reader, some may not, but the goal is to help writers---at whatever stage of their writer's life they may be---find strength, confidence, and joy in their writing.
MollyMD More than 1 year ago
An absolute must have for any aspiring writer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Julia Cameron knows of what she writes! She has a special way with words that heal and inspire readers to keep writing! You can't just read this book without writing. Julia's warm wit, candor and simple message: 'Just do it' teach us that writing can be done anytime, anyplace. She also throws in some jewels of her own poetry. In a word: Brilliant.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read it through without doing the exercises just for the enjoyment. Her writing is clear, heartfelt and engaging, and a boost to me as a novice. I feel sure I'll be using her prompts, as they are quite doable. I liked it even more than The Artist's Way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Screen_Queen More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent resource - it opened my eyes to new ways of looking at and approaching the writing process. I got tired of reading about how hard writing is and how impossible it is to get published - this book is the complete opposite. I had already started reading other authors that talked about the joy of the writing process, and Cameron's book was an excellent addition to my collection. I really have started to enjoy her morning pages and I have learned to relax and enjoy the process instead of agonizing over every writing choice I make. I would definitely recommend this to all writers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago