book crush thursday: A Writer's Paris

I am only asking that you use Paris not as a tourist destination, but as a place to write, and that you make Paris one of the stopping points on your creative journey. It is that creative journey that I am really talking about. -- Eric Maisel, A Writer's Paris

There are always reasons not to write. ... Entertaining those reasons even for a split second is the path to uncreativity. Write, even if you have a twinge, a doubt, a fear, a block, a noisy neighbor, a sick cat, thirteen unpublished stories, and a painful boil. Write, even if you aren't sure. -- Eric Maisel

It's never someone else's fault that we aren't writing. -- Eric Maisel

It's all right just to stare at that beautiful book cover for a while. Perfectly okay. I do it all the time. Or, actually, since I've read this so often that the glue holding that little half-cover-thingy has come off, this is what I'm looking at:

Mmmm. Still lovely. This book is one of the most perfectly designed little volumes that I own, it really is. The fonts, the pen-and-ink illustrations, the size, the fabric cover... it's all gorgeous. (Go here for a peek inside...)

A Writer's Paris is one of those books that's been absolutely essential to my writing life. It's one of my desert island books: if I could choose only five books for my writing practice to depend on, this would be one of them.

And that's even factoring in all the arguments I've had with Eric Maisel. I disagree with him on just about every philosophical point, except writing and the motivation to write. So every time he strays into other discussions about humanism or athiesm, I'm usually snarking at him. (The chapter on "Maya and Lemonade" makes me scream every time.)

So why the recommendation? Why do I love this book, in spite of our disagreements?

Because Maisel sells me on his writing plan every time. Every single time.

See, he wants me to go to Paris for six months and write a novel. He wants me to write for six hours a day, in three two-hour stints. Write for two hours at a café, then go for a walk. Write for two hours at a park, then browse a little museum. Go back to my cheap Parisian studio apartment, and write for two more hours before bed.

And I am there, every time. I can see it all, see myself there, and what's more, I can see myself writing, writing, writing. He pulls away any excuses, all excuses. And before I know it, I'm back at my desk, scribbling notes, pecking away at my keyboard, finishing a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter.

Dreaming of croissants and French-speaking pigeons and views of the Seine, but writing just the same.

I pull this book off my shelf whenever I feel bleak about my work. If I've been talking about too many people about my writing, I usually feel dry and cold and want to be anywhere but my desk. (Weird, but true: talking about my current projects usually deflates my will to write.) A few chapters of Paris is like a shot in the arm: my heart is in Paris and my fingers are on the keys and I'm a writer again.

And as my family can attest: I am a thousand times happier when I'm working. So this book really is my best medicine.

In fact, reading a handful of the best chapters is like a mini writer's retreat. If I reread, say, "Apricots" (on accepting your flaws), "Writing in Public Places," "Your Novel in Six Months' Time" (which says wonderful things like Celebrate by writing or Exult. Exult by writing), "Three-Week Books," "Not Writing" (The plan in a nutshell: Get up, go out, and write.), and "If Not Paris, If Not a Year" ...

If I read all of those in one sitting, perhaps with a mug of coffee at my side, well. The literal caffeine will hit my heart rate, and the literary caffeine will hit my spirit, and off I'll run back to my novel, unstoppable, working again.

And I think that, if you're skilled in translating such things for yourself, this book could be well-applied to any creative endeavor. "Celebrate by writing" could also be: celebrate by sketching, celebrate by sauteing, celebrate by scrapbooking, celebrate by sewing.

Wherever your creativity lies, I think you'll find this book a stirring invitation to dive back in, and let nothing stop you, whether in Paris or Grand Rapids or Nashville or St. Louis.

Recommendation: No contest here. Strong coffee (from a French press, if you can manage it) and a croissant, buttered. It can be a golden afternoon, or a bleak rainy day, either one works. Just don't forget the coffee.

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