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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Flashwrite #1: Make a Beginning

Surprise! I’m on Youtube!

I got tired of telling people how much I want to teach, and decided to make my own opportunity. (In case you are wondering, yes, I did apply to several schools at the beginning of this year. No dice. Which is fine, really—everything happens precisely when it’s meant to, and no sooner.)

A few weeks ago I arrived home from a lovely weekend with my college friends at Matt’s lake cabin in North Jersey (very much like 2009, but with Cards Against Humanity instead of rock climbing) to find two emails from Squam friends in my inbox. The first was from Liz, who told me how much her cabin-mates had enjoyed and benefited from my Saturday morning workshop. (I’d already gotten lots of great feedback, but somehow hearing it secondhand felt like even more of a cosmic tap on the shoulder.) The second was a Youtube link from Elizabeth. I don’t know about you, but I find Benjamin Smythe’s perspective really refreshing. It’s not like he’s saying anything all that new or different, but he’s delivering it in a way that really resonates for me. I was inspired.

Then the two things clicked together: make my own teaching opportunity. Youtube?! Gah! Terrifying!

Which is, of course, the best reason to do it.

Moleskine notebooks: the company site; buy online. [Edit, 2013: I now prefer Ecosystem journals since they are made in the U.S. of sustainable materials.]

Read more about commonplace books on Wikipedia.

Mary Doria Russell‘s The Sparrow is heartbreaking, thought provoking, and gorgeously conceived and executed. If you want to read a novel about interstellar travel, friendships (and not) with other sentient species, and the weightiest questions about who we are and what our existence means, you should definitely get yourself a copy. Emilio is one of my all-time favorite protagonists. (I listened to the audiobook on my Wisconsin road trip last fall, and it’s fantastic.)

Here are a few good places to find inspiring quotes: Goodreads, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, and on Twitter, the novelist Ann Napolitano (@napolitanoann) tweets excellent quotes from luminaries born that day.

There can be more than one beginning, of course. Here’s an earlier one.

I’ll be transcribing each of these videos. I know there’s a closed-captioning option on Youtube, but it’s distractingly inaccurate. “Cultivate a feeling of chile”? What! I said “cultivate a feeling of joy!”

In the beginning I talked about writing, and I read about writing, and I talked some more about writing, and I read some more about writing. And if I actually wrote, it was in the form of some very angsty journal entries about how I didn’t think I was ever going to write anything worth reading. That was right before my beginning. My beginning came in 2001–some things happened, I won’t get into it here but you know what I’m talking about–which really caused me to–it just shook me to the core, and I thought, I don’t know how much time I have. I might as well do the thing that I’m really passionate about, but really really scared about. So I made a beginning. And I want you to make a beginning too, because we all have to start somewhere. Everything that was ever accomplished by anyone started with a beginning. (Yes, it’s tautological, but it’s no less profound for all that, right?)

So here’s the thing. A lot of people say to me, “But I start journaling (as a beginning), and I end up writing down what I ate for breakfast, and maybe about some really boring things that I talked about when I went out with my friends last night, and I read over it and it’s useless. Like there’s no point in my even writing this.” If you are feeling that way–if you’re seizing up about making a beginning–don’t think about writing a short story right now, don’t think about writing a novel, don’t think about writing a poem. Begin at the beginning. I want you to find a journal (if you don’t already have one). I have used a bunch of different kinds of journals in the past, but my favorite kind to use is a Moleskine (even though they’re made in China–not thrilled about that). What’s really cool about them is you can use the little file in the back to capture things. I’ve got photographs in here, phone numbers in here, and I have postcards, and all of this stuff is either useful or inspiring to me somehow.

The point of this is that I want you to look at your journal in the beginning as a commonplace book. Commonplace books were sort of a medieval invention, where people would collect everything of value. It could be recipes, or excerpts from scripture. It could be anything that was useful to them somehow that they wanted to save. Maybe there were some journal entries in there too, but it had a lot of really good, useful, practical, inspiring stuff in here. So if you think of your journal as a commonplace book, and begin with quotations that inspire you, I think that’s a really good place to start. I think it’s totally okay to begin with other people’s words, because you’re attributing them obviously, but you’re kinda loosening up, you’re getting your pen moving.

So for instance, I like to begin the very first page with quotes that inspire me. In this one, the first one I have is The trouble with illusions, he thought, is that you aren’t aware you have any until they’re taken from you. That is an excellent quote from Mary Doria Russell, who wrote The Sparrow, which is an amazing amazing amazing book. So began with that, and then I wrote in caps, ALL YOU CAN TAKE WITH YOU IS THAT WHICH YOU’VE GIVEN AWAY, which is from It’s a Wonderful Life (which is my favorite movie). And very fittingly–this is my favorite Emily Dickinson quote–Forever is composed of nows.

This is the beginning that I want you to make right now. Go get your journal, and I want you to find some quotes that inspire you. Now you probably have been collecting them all along, but if you need any inspiration, there are plenty of different links you can find online. Goodreads is one of my favorites–Goodreads collects lots of good quotes–or you could try Just browse thematically–whatever you feel like–and go from there. Write down some quotes, and see how it inspires you, how it gets you to think. I might be writing about my illusions after this!

So that’s the beginning. I am putting out this video series because I really want to teach, I want to be a writing teacher, and I thought, well, why not make it free and available to everyone–because it would be really fun! So if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, complaints, anything like that, feel free to leave me a comment. Thank you for watching!

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I hope you find this useful. I also hope you will make suggestions for improvement and ask me questions I can answer in future “episodes.” I’ve put up four videos to begin with, and will be posting new ones once a week. I would also love it if you could take a minute to comment and let me know how the suggested exercises at the end of each video are working out for you.

Thank you to my friends who encouraged me to do this. I’m so grateful for your enthusiasm and support!

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(All Flashwrite episodes here.)

1 Comment to Flashwrite #1: Make a Beginning

  1. crazyliberalkate's Gravatar crazyliberalkate
    October 30, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    This is awesome, Camille! This video series will be able to provide inspiration and help to those who want to write, but can’t spend thousands of dollars for classes. My only question would be what would you recommend for those people who do not work with paper anymore? Is there an ipad app or program that could serve the purpose of your moleskin (we all know Word stinks)?

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.