The many joys of writing

The many joys of writing

by Jan Wheatcroft


I like words. I like the way they roll on and off my tongue and the way they look on the page. I like to think about the origin of words and, since I speak some Greek, I am always happy when I can suss out the meaning of a word from its Greek beginning. And while playing with words, I like to write.

It was a summer experience in the 1990s when I traveled to Greece to be a participant at the Skyros Center on the Island of Skyros. Thus began the first of nine years of group and individual personal development work in the most enlightening and enriching environment that I have ever been exposed to. I made friends, many with whom I still maintain a deep and close contact. I also became involved in activities which are still a major part of my life. One of those was writing.

My first writing teacher, Allegra Taylor, a well-known British author, conducted open-ended writing classes for a week at a time. Sitting on rocks overlooking the sea, we would write in notebooks perched on our knees. Then we shared what we had written and listened to the responses. As in most writing classes I have attended, we often worked from prompts to get started and then moved on to tell our stories. Each summer, I joined this writing group trying to find my writing voice and to be in the company of others who loved the challenge of working with the written word. Later on during some of my trips to London, I would join one of Allegra’s writing groups held at her home. Once there, I participated with a group at a Jewish community center, which gave me a chance to experience another set of voices.

Then I started a writing group of my own, here in Claremont. We were five women who met twice a month and our group lasted for six years until one of the members passed away. It was a diverse but dedicated group. That we wrote and shared over such a long period knitted us together in a very intense and trusting way. Today, a new group of four have begun to write together. It is an interesting collection of strong writers who are very discerning and have deep stories to tell. I am happy to once again be part of a group willing to share their experiences through the written word. There is a different energy when writers write and share together.

Much of the writing I do today is done alone. It used to be me and my pencil and pad of paper. Now, it is me and my computer. This changes the entire writing process. Putting pen to paper makes for a different experience than fingers on a keyboard. I am mostly a traditionalist; I like things to stay the way they always were. I wish I could say that pen and paper is the better way for me to express myself. But it isn’t true. I love to write, bang, straight off on the computer, letting my thoughts fly magically onto a “sheet of paper” on the desktop. It may be less intimate than body to paper, but my ideas seem to flow out faster and more clearly.

In my early writing years, I followed Julia Cameron’s suggestions from her book The Artist’s Way. The first thing I did every morning was to write three pages of something—anything—in a notebook.  Every morning, without fail, I would write whatever came into my head. I filled notebooks of handwritten thoughts, dreams, rants, rages, joys and meaningless mutterings. But it was liberating and I developed an intense relationship with myself. But then I just stopped, eventually throwing out all of those notebooks before moving to a new house. They had served their purpose and I didn’t want them around anymore. 

As I began to travel more, especially on longer trips, I carried small Moleskin notebooks where I kept notes, recipes, addresses, lists and daily musings on what I did, where I went and what I ate. I also kept close memos on how I spent my money. I kept a separate travel journal. In it, I drew pictures and pasted photographs developed at one-hour photo shops around the world. I would cut up the photographs to fit into place as part of my “artistic travel account.” I now have books and books lined up on my shelf celebrating those years and those trips in colorful style. When I read them, I savor the memories, the friends and the excitement and pleasure of those years of travel. But then that, too, stopped. Now I just seem to concentrate on the moleskin notebooks and my lists, ideas and notes made on a daily basis as well as the iPhone camera. 

Writing is a relationship between my head and the paper as transferred through my fingers. Sometimes I feel as if I don’t consciously “think” but the thoughts transfer themselves, slipping out of my fingers onto the paper. The stories often seem to tell themselves. I may plot something out on a scrap of paper but I eventually find the outcome develops on its own.  Nothing is nicer than becoming lost in whatever project one is doing, whether it be writing a column or a poem or doing an art project. Letting go and allowing the ideas take over and flow in a natural way can produce a rich outcome. 

We were all voracious readers in my family. Reading was a very natural way of enjoying words and meanings and sharing our mutual experiences. I always liked to eat and read. So did my sister. But we never did this at family meals. My mother read her cookbooks in bed, relishing the thought of how her dishes would taste. She also read to both of us as we were growing up. She had a lovely way of reading out loud, and forming the words in a “tasty” way. It made words more interesting to me. My mother also did some writing and helped publish a book on nursery school teaching.

My sister is writing and publishing wonderful stories and articles in national magazines. It makes me very proud. She carries on a family tradition of the enjoyment of words and their interaction with each other. I have thought of writing a book and even have specific subjects that interest me. At this point, I am more interested in constructing the books by sewing, painting, printing and collaging. Many may even be wordless. I am glad that I came from a family that read, wrote and spoke a lot. Words are one of our important means of communication. Without the ability to communicate well, we are unable to express the many important connections we make in our world.


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