Start weaving your fabric.

On Sunday night, I finished teaching a six-week personal writing class, and decided to close with this quote from Dani Shapiro's Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life (pp. 192):

"Every writer has a fabric. The most intense moments of our lives seem to sharpen and raise themselves as if written in Braille -- this is where our themes begin to take hold. Explore deeply enough and you will find strange and startling questions to grapple with on the page.

We do not choose this fabric as if browsing the aisle at Bloomingdale's. ...Whether or not we are fond of our tiny corner of the universe, it's all we've got. ...It is the truest lesson I know about writing -- and about life -- that we must always move in the direction of our own true calling, not anyone else's."

I had scribbled lots of underlines and stars around this passage, which appears towards the end of Shapiro's reflective memoir on the writing journey. (And I felt lucky enough to get to hear her speak at Goddard College last summer.) Frantic underlining/starring tends to be my response when I read something that I feel deeply in my gut -- mainly because it's something I've wanted to put words to for a long time. Every writer has a fabric. Yes, Dani!

Of course, you can go even further than that: Every person has a fabric.

So does that make us all writers? I think that it does, but of course it's up to each individual to put that into practice. And hey, maybe you express and explore your fabric through a different creative medium. Maybe words stop you in your tracks the way numbers stop me. Maybe painting or sewing or dancing is your way of processing the knots and frays of your own personal fabric. That's fantastic!

But if you're thinking, "Hey, I don't know if I have an artistic, creative way that I automatically turn to in order to process my life..."

Or, "I've only ever written for school or work -- I'm not sure that I would even know how to begin to use writing to explore my life's fabric..."

Or, "I'm so busy as it is," or, "Are you kidding me? I'm not a writer!..."

Take a beat. A moment. Five minutes.

Think on your fabric. Scribble bits of it down on a spare scrap of paper.

Atlanta, born and raised

Big extended family

Church community

Goodie two shoes; scared to get in trouble

Sick a lot/asthma as a kid

Shy, except with family/at church

Perfectionist older child

Voracious reader

... And that's just the beginning. The first layer of my fabric. Actually, I suppose it goes deeper than that -- I could have started with the base that was laid before me. Great-grandparents: Irish immigrant minister + missionary born in China, judge in Savannah, mill manager in Alabama...

Memories, character traits, experiences, sorrows, joys, interactions -- some small, some significant, all part of weaving our personal fabric, piecing it together, and claiming it as our own.

I think that often, it's the claiming that can be the hardest part. Putting your life down on paper is an act of ownership, which can be scary, even if we're the only one who will ever see the scrawl on the page. 

And yet, if you have courage to stake your claim, to put pen to paper, I believe that you will only grow stronger.

It's been a pleasure to watch and listen to the adults in my class grow more certain of their authentic voices, exploring where they've been and where they are in life. "I'm not a writer," one of them told me once. "This is interesting to me, but you all will probably think it's boring," another said in prefacing a piece. And as soon as they've finished reading out loud (another courageous action!), I cannot jump in quickly enough. "Are you kidding me? That was amazing! The opposite of boring! Your emotion, your voice... so strong! You are a writer!"

It never fails. This work is a gift.

You have a fabric. Precious and priceless. Your very own. Have you started weaving?

P.S. Have questions? Want to start weaving/writing? Email clasbury10 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Words on the page.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me a tweet: "Any book recommendations teachers of writing or any adult could use to cultivate their own writing journey?"

Answer: Of COURSE! Here are five suggestions -- four of them books -- from off the top of my head. There are so many writing books out there, many that I haven't read, and I bet that if anyone else wrote this post, they would list five different ones. What are your favorite recs? Would love to see them in the comments.

5. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I will be honest and say that I read this one several years ago, and parts of it blur in my memory, but I do remember greatly enjoying it. As one who's never been a big horror/suspense reader, this is the only Stephen King book I've read, and I was still fascinated by his tales of how he created his classics -- and, of course, his perspective as a writer. It's wonderfully readable.

4. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. Speaking of readability, Karr's latest book (she's also written the best-selling memoirs The Liars' Club and Lit) also ranks high. She teaches writing at Syracuse, and has put many of her best lessons into this book, while also giving examples from her own literary life.

3. The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick. This is the first book that my first graduate school advisor had all of his memoir students read. It's a fascinating exploration of personal writing's internal and external structure. For me, at the time that I read it, Gornick's reflections on writing voice were most helpful. The narrator of a memoir needed to be "me but not me," Gornick said; this was a phrase that I would return to many times as I hashed out my manuscript. No matter what type of writing you're doing or your ultimate goal, this book is worth a read. BrainPickings has a great article on it, as well, to give you a further sense of the content.

2. The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. This book is a 12-week guide for artists of any kind (humans of any kind, really), meant to spark your creativity and self-discovery. I started TAW in August 2012. A couple of months later, I wrote: "I'm currently in the midst of Week 8. There are a lot of questions and exercises and thought processes to go through, and I've enjoyed that. Most importantly, this program has taught me to write morning pages. Three pages every morning of whatever spills out of my mind. Even though I've journaled continuously for ten years, this is probably the most honest writing I've ever allowed myself to produce. And I feel like it's opened me up off the page too, with the desire to talk and laugh and be earnest and true with myself and others. Easier said than done, but it's a start."

1. Writing in the morning. This isn't a book, but it stems from The Artist's Way (as you can see above), and I also think that all of the books in the world can't replace the act of physically writing (by hand) at least once a day. I know this because I didn't do it for nearly two years, overrun with work + school + life. I missed it, but I didn't know how to return to it. It felt like a big thing to return to, and it may feel like a big thing to start, if you've never done it before. But suddenly, I started up again. Now I sit on the edge of the bed, set my clock for 3-5 minutes (depending on how late I've woken up), open to a fresh blank page, and write whatever comes out. Sometimes I write two pages, other times (like today), it's just one. Sometimes it has a flow and makes sense, other times it doesn't. And I hardly think about it. The words just appear, moving me along with them.

This has become such an important practice for me. Not only does it make me write regularly, making me a better writer by habit ("butt in chair," Anne Lamott says, and I have a love/hate relationship with the fact that she's right), but it clears my brain for the day ahead. It allows me to write down goals, responses, plans (if that's what happens to appear on the page)... or just random emotions, experiences, questions. This PsychCentral article talks a lot about the benefits of this type of therapeutic writing, in case you need more convincing. (Besides, who doesn't need to just write "Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap." every once in awhile?)

In 2012, I also wrote this: "In The Artist's Way Cameron talks a lot about the concept of synchronicity, urging us to notice how elements and events and relationships in our lives become intertwined or connected in ways we did not expect or plan."

I think that my daily writing practice also gives me a chance to recognize these moments of connection, on my own or with others. And you never know when you'll stumble into something that needs more than a page or two to be written about. That's where the books can help, encourage, and guide. But ultimately, nothing can beat the simple act of putting words on the page.

You can do it. Start here.

The Friday Five: Encouragement.

Truth: I always have a hard time coming up with a title for these posts, other than "The Friday Five" - I want to set them apart from each other, since of course, each week is different. But of course, items/happenings within the Friday Five are different from each other, so I sometimes get frustrated trying to come up with an all-encompassing title or theme. (I could just list them all in the headline, but then you wouldn't read the post, would you?)

Anyway, if I had to choose a theme for this week's F5, it would be encouragement. Encouraging weather, encouraging books, encouraging stories, encouraging people. Saving my life this week:

1. Warm weather. I'm starting to pull out my spring wardrobe and it's (*sings in Parks & Rec Jean-Ralphio voice*) the BESSSSSSSST. Spring just makes everything about life better.

2. Social media-less Sunday. I wrote about this earlier in the week, but have to state again that it was lovely. Let's see if it can happen again this weekend.

3. Still Writing by Dani Shapiro. Dani spoke at our Goddard College MFA summer residency last year, and I so enjoyed her. At the time, I was a little too caught up in my required reading to grab Still Writing, but boy am I loving it now. If you're a writer of any kind - and I mean even if you just journal or scribble or write really long Facebook posts - you should pick it up.

4. A writer-to-writer phone call. My friend Andrew called me up the other day so we could talk about my memoir manuscript that he's just finished reading. I met Andrew and his awesome wife seven (!) years ago when I interned at a marvelous church in Virginia. It changed my life in a lot of ways, and one has been the joy of continuing relationships that I first started to build in 2009. Since then, Andrew's become the pastor of a church and has published several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Check out his blog! Anyway, it was great to catch up and to bat around ideas on how to move forward in revising my manuscript and making it as rich as possible, for future readers and myself. Thanks, Andrew, for giving your time and energy to helping me on the journey.

5. Dinner with family and friends. My dad's best friend and his wife came into town yesterday and we all gathered around the table for takeouts of Community's finest - an aptly named bbq joint for the occasion - to laugh and reconnect and hear stories about the early years of their friendship. Top it all off with homemade banana pudding, and it did not take long to fall asleep last night.

Honorable mentions: Dinners with Sean, the Downton Abbey finale (so encouraging I half-expected/longed for Sybil to walk through the door at any moment), fun and laughter with coworkers, and the Game of Thrones season six trailer (kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of encouragement, except for the fact that it's starting soon and we'll get to see what happens! April 24, get here quick please.)

What sparks of light and encouragement have stood out for you this week?