Some Things are Just too Obnoxious to Ignore

This is a rant. It will probably offend a lot of people. Too bad.

I just came across this quote by Julia Cameron on someone’s blog:

“We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance as well.” The Right to Write

So what’s wrong with that? Probably mostly me, being excessively offended. But, like most quotes that make people all melty and dewey-eyed, it’s a personal statement that the woman insists on applying to everybody. Even if it wasn’t offensive for its pseudo-spiritual, pop psychology, New Agey vaporings, it would be offensive on that basis alone.

No, it isn’t human nature to write. In fact, writing seems to be gifted to very few people. And the world would probably be better off if it were fewer still. There — I’m an elitist on top of all my other faults.

If you’re religious, and believe in the power of prayer and meditation, then Cameron’s attitude may be good news. But not all humans are spiritual beings. I doubt that many are, in reality, but most think they are because they’ve been immersed in that kind of thinking since early childhood. You might also call it brainwashing if you want to be exact.

Me? I’m a rationalist, an atheist through and through. For me, spirituality is a function of the brain, no different from any illusion created by any one of a wide variety of emotional and psychological states. The very idea of my writing being considered a form of prayer or a seeking for “inner guidance” is almost nauseating in its implications. People like Cameron apparently can’t exist without giving their striving a “higher meaning.” The pleasures of creativity simply aren’t enough for them. But such a notion is going to appeal to every would-be creative who needs justification for  their efforts. I suspect that she’s most popular with people who either never manage to get around to writing, or to finishing anything, or who find that they lack the talent to stand out. It’s a form of pie in the sky for the pie-deprived.



13 thoughts on “Some Things are Just too Obnoxious to Ignore

    1. Not everything is an illusion of the brain. Maybe I should have said hallucination. You’re free to examine and discuss my opinions, but nobody has access to states like “spirituality” except the person experiencing them.

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Now, if she had phrased all that in terms of her own experience, then fine – that’s her experience. But you are right, she’s attributing thoughts and intentions to a large group of people (writers) that are as varied as the stars.

    I, too, am an atheist, and proud of it. I write because I like it, not because I’m trying to find some higher, inner guidance. I am sure there are those who do that, just as there are monks who wash dishes (and other menial tasks) incessantly for years to attain the same “inner peace”.

    1. I’ve never understood the concept of inner guidance, which spiritual types seem to think is something separate from ourselves. It’s in us, but not *of* us, as far as I can make out. In general, I get the impression that it comes from a distrust of the self.

  2. I can’t say I find doing the dishes more spiritual than writing :), but then we’d have to get much more heavily into defining our terms before we could actually get anywhere with a discussion about spirituality. I guess Ms Cameron was in a hurry and she made a poor choice of words. Personally, her statement doesn’t bother me – but then I’ve been in Byron Shire, home of the New Age in Australia, since 1978, I know the lingo and nothing I hear in that regard surprises me anymore.

  3. Sorry, but I think you are indeed just ‘being excessively offended’. A lot of people say ‘we’ when they mean ‘I’ – newspaper columnists do it, politicians do it, just about everyone does it at some point or another. I’d be very surprised if you’ve never done it yourself at some point in your life. I don’t agree with Julia Cameron’s opinions either, but I don’t think that’s reason enough to write an entire blog post attacking her.

    Just my two cents’ worth.

    1. The editorial “we” in news articles is one thing. In a book which is offering advice, it’s something entirely different. Of course, I recognize that Cameron has an audience that’s happy to follow her directions. Different strokes for different folks. You’re entitled to your two cents, and I’m still entitled to my opinion.

      You may be right that I’ve used the editorial “we,” but it’s something I try very hard to avoid. Further, its use in public venues is intended to create inclusiveness. It’s a substitute for “you,” not for “I.”

  4. I share your low opinion of Julia Cameron’s books, Catana. Much of her work was motivated by her struggles with psychosis, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Writing probably helped and she is trying to share her sense of “salvation.” I find her views on the creative process useless and wonder if her mystical way of looking at the psyche isn’t part of her problem.

    1. I don’t know anything about Cameron’s life, but that’s a confirmation (if an excessively skewed one) of my opinion that far too much writing advice is so personal to the person giving it that it has very little value for anyone else. Add in that many people with such severe problems turn to religion and believe that if not for religion they would never have recovered/solved problems. My ignorance of her path to her books is a chicken/egg problem — whether she transferred religious feelings to writing or turned writing into a religious experience.

  5. “No, it isn’t human nature to write. In fact, writing seems to be gifted to very few people. And the world would probably be better off if it were fewer still. There — I’m an elitist on top of all my other faults.”

    I’m not. 🙂 But I suppose that this is an area where we’ll have to agree to disagree. Personally, I see writing as like sports: anyone can do it, it’s a good idea for everyone to try it and see whether they enjoy it, but only a few are going to end up professionals, and even fewer are going to end up as highly skilled professionals. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with playing catch in your backyard. I have zero problems with not-top-class writers, in the same way that I have zero problems with backlot ball-games. As far as I’m concerned, the more the merrier, because I read a lot of writers who wouldn’t win any literary awards.

    “But such a notion is going to appeal to every would-be creative who needs justification for their efforts.”

    Um . . . I think we should go back to what you said earlier: yours is a personal statement. Including the bit where you generalize about Julia Cameron’s reading audience.

    I didn’t personally find her writings very helpful, but I read them with interest. There are actually very few books on the topic of spirituality and writing – or spirituality and any arts – which helps to explain her popularity.

    For that matter, there are very books on atheism and writing. Perhaps you could write some more articles about this? You made a start to that topic in your post, but I had to wade through a lot of character attacks (in the original post and in the comments) to get to your opinions on the connection between rationality and writing.

    1. Interesting idea, Dusk — exploring a connection between rationality and writing. Maybe someday. And yes, anyone has the right to try writing, or do it for personal reasons. I wouldn’t deny that. But I’d go further than saying that very few can become good at it or even rise to a professional level. Very few can become even merely competent, especially if good reading hasn’t been an important part of their life.

      1. “But I’d go further than saying that very few can become good at it or even rise to a professional level.”

        Well, you already know my definition of a good writer. 🙂

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