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How Rebecca Solnit writes – might change the world

“Books are boxes” she said with a light in her eye,  “I discovered them when I learned to read.   Reading allowed me to open the boxes and unpack all the treasures inside.”Books are like boxes

Rebecca Solnit was speaking to a group of about 30 people on the Stanford Campus as part of a free program called How I Write [thanks to MeetUp.com].

Books, Beautiful Books

I confess, I don’t like to write …but I know what she means about books.  My life changed when I worked at the public library in Richmond Virginia (my first ‘real’ job) I began to see books as people who put their best thoughts on paper for us to see.  They are just waiting for us to pick them up and visit.

Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca is a very prolific writer who enjoys mixing lyrical with non-fiction.  It’s easy to see literary styles as formal and separated, but we don’t talk that way…we move from information to lyrical to story when we’re talking with our friends, so why not in literature?

Life is more complicated than movies

She dislikes the traditional Hollywood ending where the story leaves you as you leave the theater.  Life requires a bit more thought.  She directs our attention to the ending of the George Clooney movie, Up in the Air, because it wasn’t quite so resolved at then end…there was no ‘hero’ who knew their purpose and what to do.

Reflection not shopping

She spoke of the deep reflection the country did immediately after 911 and how the administration worked hard to simplify the response:  Which she summarized as, “go shopping combined with it’s not complicated, it’s an attack…we’re at war against evil-doers!”

What I learned from Rebecca Solnit:

  • It’s easy to think that writing LOOKS like typing.  But at 60 words-per-minute  you could write a book in 3 days. So really most of writing is processing.
  • There are lot of pauses in the writing process.  “A lot of my writing happens on my walks”, she explains.  The brain is making connections.
  • You have to be spontaneous AND keep working at the same time.  You can’t make great writing appear but you can’t just wait for inspiration.
  • If you can’t write, she suggests that you write a letter about what you would write about (if you could write) and then take the “Dear” off of the front and the “Sincerely” off the end and you might have your essay.

These two phrases capture her relationship to her role as a writer:

“Beliefs shape reality.  And writers shape beliefs.”

It’s no wonder she is so prolific, she believes that books can change the world.  It changed mine.

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Rebecca Solnit has written: Storming the Gates of Paradise; A field Guide to Getting Lost; Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities; Wanderlust: A history of Walking; As Eve Said to teh Serpent: On Landscape, Generd, and Art; River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West.  She contributes to Harper’s and write for TomDispatch.com.

About: william:
William Hall is an actor, trainer and improviser living in San Francisco, CA. He works with companies to engage and involve audiences at Trade Shows, Conferences and Training Sessions. He is a founder of BATS Improv and the author of The Playbook: Improv Games for Performers.

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2 Responses to “How Rebecca Solnit writes – might change the world”

  1. Nick Freeman says:

    The joy of opening a box that is a book is like nothing else in my experience. Solnit proves that ideas matter. My personal discovery of Solnit started w/ River of Shadows. It is perhaps a cliche, but no less true to say that book changed my life.

    Not that it changed my real life like shave the head, don the orange robes, and renounce dessert or good champagne. More like, ah- context to put people and the temporal landscapes they inhabited. So now when I read, I have a better appreciation when an author places well. This one element vastly improved my reading enjoyment, and thus changed my life.

  2. Richard Cox says:

    There are some great tips here on getting past blocks. I love the idea of writing the thing you want to write but can’t. It’s a great way of just getting started.

    As an improviser, just trusting that something is always there to come out is a powerful concept. And since writing is about the process, as she points out, getting something down first is the important part. People don’t talk about editors block nearly as much as writers block.

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