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Nobody Does It Alone


Open any published book to the Acknowledgements page. Notice how many people are listed there and what the author is thanking them for.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to put that book into your hands.

In fact, long before the book becomes a book, most people who write have the support of others. Most acknowledgements I've read express gratitude to the friends, partners, parents and/or kids who provided moral and material support, along with the writing friends, writing groups, feedback groups, teachers and others, all before the manuscript even reached an agent or an editor, let alone the teams of copyeditors, proofreaders, designers, printers and other professionals in the publishing industry.

And yet the image that still springs to mind when I think of "The Writer" is "Dead White Dude scribbling away in a freezing garret by candlelight." <eyeroll>

And this after decades of feminism and years of writing with all kinds of people, none of them Dead White Dudes. <another eyeroll>

My hope is that we're changing our view of writers (and removing the capitals and quotation marks), as more of us read Acknowledgement pages—and participate in group writing sessions of one kind and another.

Even if we're in fact writing alone at home on a Zoom call, there's a subtle group energy that holds us as we write together.

An echo of that group energy seems to also extend to the other 90 per cent of my writing time. It provides a welcome counterbalance to the many voices of my inner critic, who would be quite content if I never did any writing at all.

What with all those voices, I'm never really alone, even when I am. I carry with me all the critics and doubters and haters as well as those who help. Most of the time, I have no control over who shows up.

But we can be intentional about who we invite in.

I've learned a wonderful practice (which I sometimes remember to use) of invoking "ancestors," in the broadest possible interpretation of that word. It's something like the Invocation of the Muse in the works of Homer and other poets, with perhaps a somewhat different intent.

Sarcophagus known as the "Muses Sarcophagus", representing the nine Muses and their attributes. Marble, first half of the 2nd century AD, found by the Via Ostiense.
"Muses Sarcophagus", Louvre Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Where the Muse is usually invoked for what you might call inspiration, calling on the ancestors also includes an element of support. Invoking the Muse acknowledges that something greater than "me" is involved in the writing that flows through me; calling the ancestors acknowledges that plus the notion that we are not alone in our craft, that we're always standing on someone's shoulders.

I learned this practice from my teacher, Miriam Hall, who has been taking a moment at the start of each class to invite everyone to call on their ancestors, meaning not only actual bloodline ancestors, but also writing ancestors, non-human beings like trees or companion animals, elemental beings like fire and water, whoever and whatever comes to mind in the moment as helpful to the writing we're about to do.

This invocation helps me centre myself in the moment I'm in. You might say it's a way of setting an intention for the session. It's also a way of grounding myself in the best possible energy for the task at hand, a way of focusing my own energy on thoughts that are helpful rather than the random thoughts of, say, that internal mean girl who undermines every word that flows through my pen and then gaslights me when I freeze up.

Part of this practice is to "dedicate the merit," to use Buddhist terminology, meaning that instead of just allowing all the juicy energy of your practice to disperse, you extend the benefits of that practice towards beings who might need a little extra love or healing.

Whether you're intentional about it or not, you're never truly alone in your writing practice, always building on the works of those who came before you.

Choosing to be intentional provides a stronger container of support for your writing. Choosing to be intentional gives you a way of setting aside the voices of criticism, allowing you to focus instead on letting the Muse flow into being, through your pen.

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