R. Shapiro photo


by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

December 2010

"Your best writing will arise from feelings."

A daily writing practice is an important commitment to be a writer. You can’t hang out indefinitely and wait for inspiration to come. But feelings are always washing in, and if we pay attention to them, give them a voice on the page, we really have something to write home about.

Feelings are noted for their illogic. You know you shouldn’t feel that way, but you do anyway. They come at you out of nowhere, breaking through the routines of your day, making you revisit your mother-in-law’s last diatribe while you’re sitting on the toilet or making you do a mental mad dog paddle to keep your head above the thrashing wave as you had when the lifeguard had to come and get you last summer while you go out to mail a letter on a snowy day. Your best writing will arise from feelings.

In Out of the Labyrinth, an interview with Anais Nin, she said that Proust, whom she mentioned frequently in her diary, “was the first to show her how to break down chronology (which she never liked) and follow the dictates of memory, of feeling memory, so that he only wrote things when he felt them, no matter when it happened.”

Take the time to feel before you write or to at least ask yourself how the incident, the object, the memory that you are going to write about made you feel. Once you have the answer, feel it in your body, even if you have to take time to meditate on it, remember, you are not wasting your time.

In First Person: the Nature of Short Fiction, Joyce Carol Oates writes, “If you feel that sitting in a daze, staring at the sky or at the river, is somehow a sacred event that your deepest self is pleased by it, then perhaps you are a writer and in time you will try to communicate your feelings. Writers write eventually; but first they feel.”

"To help yourself write with feeling, read something that is imbued with feeling."

Author Maxine Hong asks her students, “What do you feel?” about what they’ve read or written, she finds that they give analyses instead. She teaches them to work on feeling scene by scene so that the reader can have feelings inside himself.

To help yourself write with feeling, read something that is imbued with feeling before you begin to write.

Western Wind, when wilt thou blow,
That the small rain down my rain?
Christ, that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again.

The anonymous poet evokes sorrow, impatience, longing to every reader throughout the centuries.

Or the haunting sorrow and revelation in Kafka’s The Sirens:

These are the seductive voices of the night; the Sirens, too, sang that way. It would be doing them an injustice to think that they wanted to seduce; they knew they had claws and sterile wombs, and they lamented this aloud. They couldn’t help it if their laments sounded so beautiful.

Make yourself a file of short works that cause feelings to surge inside you. Go to them often.

". . . write a true experience as if it were a dream . . ."

Another way to trigger feeling is to use a trick from psychometry. Hold an object in your hand and ask yourself how it makes you feel. What memory does it bring up? This works with an ordinary paper clip as well as a treasured brooch from your great grandmother.

It’s also helpful to write a true experience as if it were a dream, see what new elements come up. Write a dream as if it were a true experience.

Whatever tools you use to rev up your feeling, feelings will make your writing effortless. You will lose track of the time. You will find it hard to stop.

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro





Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is author of Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster) and has published essays in NYT (Lives), Newsweek (My Turn), et. al. Her essay, ESS, ESS, is just out in FEED ME: WRITERS DISH ABOUT FOOD, EATING, WEIGHT, AND BODY IMAGE, ed. by Harriet Brown (Random House, 2009). She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. She teaches Writing the Personal Essay at UCLA extension.