Marianne Williamson has written six New York Times best sellers, including The Age Of Miracles and A Return To Love. Known in some circles as Hollywood's favorite self-help guru, we just had to find out what the process for a spiritual author entails - so we asked her for ten minutes.
Which is harder to write - the first sentence or the last?
Definitely the firs.t I always think of myself as being pregnant with a book. I remember reading Annie Lamott's great book, Bird By Bird, about writing...and I'm sure on some level she's correct, about the need for a writer to write every day. I can't write every day, maybe on Facebook or something. With a book... Hemingway said, "when the story's not writing itself, put your pencil down." I'm pregnant until it's labor, and until it's labor, there's no point in even trying. So, the first sentence might be difficult; by the last sentence, if that thing's not writing itself, you're in way deeper trouble.
Are there any habits you would encourage writers to take up - or avoid - to be more productive?
I am a person who believes strongly in the power of meditation, prayer. Somebody once gave me one of those prayer candles, a very beautiful prayer candle, and I used it specifically - I can't remember which of my books it was, it might have been Everyday Grace - and I remember it was very much a part of writing that book. I would light that candle, I would say a prayer about the book, may it come from the highest and so forth. We are all at the effect of this barrage of modernity today, from the internet, and it's a political year, and popular culture and the stress of the culture... I think a writer has to inhabit a very deep, sacred, internal pace to be able to be of value to the culture that's so frenetic these days. If you yourself are at the effect of that freneticism, what can you really contribute? Whatever it is for any person, a particular room or a particular desk... For me, no matter what, how many desks I bought, it always comes back to writing on my bed. I'm not someone who can just drop into a Starbucks and write a page, but then some people might. That which so aligns your nervous system with the activity at hand that you know you can really fall into a deeper place, whatever that is for you - and if that's Starbucks, that's Starbucks - whatever it is, really honor that.
What is your personal worst distraction from getting work done?
It's difficult for me to find that place, sometimes during the day. I'm someone who often finds that I awake in the middle of the night, 4:15, like clockwork half the time, it's like that witching hour. There's something about those hours, and the negative ions and the very deep quiet - the deep quiet - of those late, late night hours. So when I'm really into it with a book, sometimes my writing is like 4-6:30, where I went to sleep at a normal hour, woke up, find myself, my imagination a really rich flowing place, and it's very common [to write] for two or three hours and go back to sleep.
Do you edit as you go along or wait until the end?
As I go along, probably more than I should. Though, as any writer knows, you put a book on a shelf for a month, you come back to it, it's a completely different book to you, you have insights a month later that are completely different than you had at the time.
What do you think is the most common mistake new writers make?
Making it more about whether or not they'll sell, get an agent, have a bestseller as opposed to what might [they] contribute to the planet. First-time writers, the mistake I see, is the general corruption of the culture, people wanting to be a bestseller more than they want to be a good writer.
Were you rejected many time before being published?
I was pure out of naivete. In my career, the niche of my career did not exist when I got started, it didn't exist, so there was nothing to be ambitious for. As far as a bestseller's concerned, my goal was "oh dear God, please don't let me be embarrassed. Please let me sell enough that I won't be embarrassed." I never would have dreamed, Oprah had never done that before... my book was the first one that Oprah got on [as a] best book, there was no Oprah [Book] Club yet. So, there was no "I have a vision of seeing myself on Oprah."
What was the best piece of advice you ever got about writing?
I've gotten very little advice about writing, but probably the only piece of advice I've ever gotten about writing is a good piece of advice, and that's "just start writing - don't worry about if it's good or not." When you're ready, just start putting words on paper - you will redo them over and over, but if you feel in the mode, and it's flowing, just start writing. Seek to be a vessel for something beautiful. Writing should be sacred. What do the great writers have to say? That's when I have received the most succor... or the Letters to a Young Poet, when Rilke says "only be a poet if you have to be a poet." When I read the greats - I mean the greats - talking about creativity and writing, that was not personal advice given to me, but to me, it was advice given to the ages.