OK, Universe.

Posted On: 05.30.12

“Once I stopped drinking, I found all attempts to be a “great” writer or even a “good” writer to be both exhausting and somehow beside the point. I began to sense that writing was about something larger than “career.” I began to sense that writing was about writing itself. What I needed to do was simply write and not worry so much about judging it. But how?

I was told by screenwriters Jerry Ayres and Diana Gould, and by nonfiction writer Maurice Zolotow, to post a little sign by my desk that said something like, “Ok, Universe. You take care of the quality. I’ll take care of the quantity.”

- Julia Cameron, THE RIGHT TO WRITE, p. 103

I can’t tell you how much Cameron’s words speak to me. There are times when I find myself paralyzed by an effort to create great writing or even good writing. It is those times when I forget about quality and just write, those times when I lose myself in a flood of words, that progress is made. I think this is important for all of us writers to remember this. That there is meaning and majesty in just writing words, that if we have a little faith, they might one day be good. Or great.

I think that this isn’t just wisdom for writers, but wisdom for all of us – parents, people, regular human beings. I think that when we fixate too intently on quality – how great, or good, our days are, whether we are succeeding in some heralded Platonic sense, we trip ourselves up. When we allow ourselves just to be, to live, to go, I think we are often better off.

As an aside, I am realizing something kind of cool. I am realizing that most writing advice can really be expanded to become living advice. This is just one example, this exhortation of sorts to sometimes focus on quantity over quality. (I know there are often instances when the reverse wisdom is in effect, say with friendship. Fewer quality relationships seem to be preferable to a plethora of poor relationships…) Anyway, I dig the idea that in researching how to become a better writer, I am in some sense researching how to become a better person. What does this mean exactly?

Okay, cutting myself off. This is getting a wee bit out of hand.

But these? They are words. Now I’m leaving it up to the Universe to imbue them with some quality…

{P.S. It is not lost on me that Julia Cameron gave up drinking and that her writing seemed to improve after doing so. I’m not sure why she abandoned drinking, but I do intend to find out.}

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Have you any clue what this blog post is really about? Do you think that advice in one facet of life can often be translated to advice in another, or to advice about life itself? When does quality trump quantity and vice versa?

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15 Comments for: "OK, Universe."
  1. RG

    I love the rambling nature of this. I think the question of quantity versus quality is interesting. My guess is that you are saying there are times we should just DO or ACT and not paralyze ourselves with the question of quality?

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Rambling is, at times, one of my specialties. I read these words over and hesitated to post them and then thought there is something here, even if that something is a shred less than clear. I think I need to adopt this attitude a bit more – in writing, and life.

      Thank you, RG.

  2. Anonymous

    Now I know why I am reading! I am not a writer or a mother, but somehow most of your posts resonate with me. I think it is, as you say, because thoughts on being a good writer or a good mom are in the end thoughts on being a good and thoughtful person. Glad you made the connection!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Yes, this is quite the realization. That there are so many things which appear to be about specific topics, but are really much more universal than that. I know it sounds dorky, but I am kind of excited to re-read my favorite books on writing with this in mind and see what gems they have about life in general, not just the craft of prose. (Not sure I love the word “craft,” btw.)

  3. Bria

    Do you think your writing has improved in the past few months? I do. I sense a shift in clarity and mood. Interesting!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      This is such a biggie. So much has changed since I gave up wine over four months ago and my relationship with writing does seem different. It’s hard to articulate how but I do think I feel less obsessed with originality and greatness. This is perhaps why Cameron’s words struck me so powerfully. I think many things in my life have become more clear and simple, but this is really something I am continuing to process, and explore. Interesting to say the least.

      Thank you, Bria.

  4. All so interesting. I think this post is exactly what it is supposed to be. You put it out there and everyone will take what they need from it (as with all your posts, really). And despite the fact that you just wrote the quantity it is filled with quality.

    And advice. I think it can all be applied to your situation whatever it may be. In regards to the quality vs. quantity debate. You can’t have quality without any quantity at all. It’s like the Wayne Gretzky quote: You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Without getting something down there is no chance for quality at all.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I love, and buy, Gretzky’s thinking. I think life, and the good life, is about taking shots. And also about knowing, and accepting, that many to most of those shots will not go in. Life is not just about success, but about giving ourselves the opportunity to succeed. Thanks for this, Elise.

  5. Well said. Both your words and Julia’s suit me perfectly right now. Thanks for sharing them. Yesterday, I was having trouble letting go of a book chapter I was writing. I did not think it was good enough and it brought up all these insecurities and left me feeling paralyzed. Then talking to a writer friend, I realized that I had to let it go and did.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      As writers, as people, how do we toe that line between holding on and letting go, between effort and surrender? I don’t pretend to know, but I feel the tensions between these things, these meaningful things, daily.

      This is for another post, or several other posts, but I am struggling mightily with the writing of my second novel. Here’s the thing: I know in my heart that the story is a beautiful and important one, but I am having a hard time telling it. I think I am caught up on it being great, lyrical, original. And I think I just need to write it, to let it come.

      Alas. How to piece together my second book? Admittedly a privileged problem to have.

      Thank you for chiming in, Sandra.

  6. Love this. I totally agree that the pressure we feel about quality can get in our way of simply living and participating and creating. xox

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Participating. Yes. That’s what so much of this is about, right? Just getting in there, acting, doing something. I think perfectionism plagues so many of us and we are sometimes inclined to hang back and hold off until our contribution is worthy somehow when our best bet might just be acting.
      Thanks, you. xox

  7. I needed to read this today.

    And thanks for the great observation that most writing advice can actually serve as life advice; I never thought of it that way, but it rings true.

    Have you read The War of Art? It’s short but probably my favorite book on writing, creativity and production. The author, Steven Pressfield, makes a strong case for abandoning the vice of “this has to be perfect” and simply creating, then moving forward. As he says, both the process and the end result are better and more enjoyable when you do.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I have read that book and I adored it. His words on Resistance struck me so profoundly and I think I need to reread them again and again.

      Guess what I am reading now? Yup, your lovely novel THE ART OF FORGETTING. I hope very much to write about it here once I have turned the final page. Alas, wish there were more hours in the day.

      Oh – and this is perhaps better suited for email, but others might find it interesting… I can’t tell you how honored and humbled I am to be a prt of the fantastic author group on Facebook. I am inspired and encouraged to be part of such a group, but I have moments when I feel a bit like a failure because I am not posting about my latest book release or deal. I beat myself up for not being quicker on my feet, for not producing more faster. I also feel envious of all of you guys who seem to be more on your game… Are these things terrible to admit or am I maybe tapping into something universal here? My hunch is that this could make for its own vulnerable and interesting post?

      So happy to see you here. And loving your book!

  8. Just stumbled across this old post of yours — if you’re still wondering why Julia Cameron gave up drinking, read her memoir:
    Floor Sample.
    JUICY. It haunts me. I read it probably about a year ago, and it still comes to mind on a fairly regular basis. It’s bananas.

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