The Sound of Paper: Starting From Scratch by Julia Cameron

Dec 11, 2015

When I made my goal at the beginning of the year to "read a book on writing," it was with the hope that I would actually improve my own writing in the process. I was looking for a book that would give little prompts and assignments and that would encourage me to think outside the box and stretch my writing muscles.

I thought I'd found that in The Sound of Paper. The book consists of short, essay-type chapters, and each one ends with a "Try This" exercise. I enjoyed the first fifty or so pages and completed many of the prompts (my favorite was the task to describe myself as I "would a literary character, in the third person").

But then the essays began to feel very repetitive and had almost nothing to do with improving writing. Every essay seemed to be about the drought in Taos, New Mexico (where the author was living at the time), which turned into a metaphor for the droughts that all artists face at one time or another in their careers. I began to see that this was not so much a book about writing as it was a book of encouragement.

By this time, I was about one hundred and fifty pages in. I considered abandoning it, but I had already invested so much time in it, and I didn't really have the heart to pick out something else at this late date in the year. So I muscled my way through the second half. And that is literally what it felt like. I would pick it up, grit my teeth, dive in, and read as much as I could before I couldn't take it anymore.

Luckily, there were a few gems, which rewarded my efforts:
  • This advice, from a friend of hers: "I write a draft, then I let it breathe for a while, and when I come back to it, I have a new perspective." (This sums up my own writing process perfectly.)
  • "Unlimited time became the luxury I yearned for, but because I didn't have it, time became what I learned to use. A minute here and a minute there, and there was, surprisingly, 'enough' of it." (Sound advice for me in the stage of motherhood I'm in right now--I can't sit around and wait for the perfect stretch of time. I have to use what I can get.)
  • "Doesn't the inner perfectionist always hook you in the ego? 'You're not going to be any good,' the inner perfectionist spits out. When we respond, 'That's okay. I think I will try it anyhow,' the inner perfectionist comes up fresh out of stratagems. There's no fighting humility." (Some of my best writing has happened when I take all the pressure off myself.)
  • "A piece of art needs a recipient. Otherwise we are pitching pennies down a well with no bottom. There is no tiny splash or 'plunk' of connection, and so we feel lost, crazy, shallow, immature." (This is why, even when I tell myself I'm just writing this blog for myself, I still look forward to the comments from you, my dear blog readers.)
 I agreed with her thoughts on daily writing through Morning Pages. I appreciated her recognition of divine help. I thought her own writing was beautifully descriptive. But in the end, it was just too repetitive and not exactly the kind of help I was looking for, so it turned into something tedious instead of something enjoyable.


  1. Hey, a quick question: do you have any suggestions for Christmas chapter books for kids? Our Christmas picture-book bin is well stocked, and I've started picking up the Christmas edition of the series I know my son likes: e.g. Ready Freddy, Jigsaw Jones, Geronimo Stilton, etc. (when I find them in the thrift store), but haven't found very many stand-alone Christmas titles in the chapter books.
    I'm wanting to keep the Christmas book bin alive and interesting for the kids as they get older, too!

    1. Last Christmas we read Nancy and Plum and loved it. Greenhouse Glass is a fun mystery that takes place during the Christmas break. Also, Christmas on Mill Street, The True Gift, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever are other fun choices. Additionally, Erica has a great list of Christmas chapter books you might want to try out:

  2. Julia Cameron was THE writer-who-wrote-about-writing back when I was in college. But I burned out on her fast. I've read oodles of books about writing, but most were so long ago I can't think of any titles for you. There's Bird by Bird, of course, and Stephen King's On Writing, but both are more about encouragement than prompts. I can think of poetry prompt books, but you likely don't need that!

    The best book of artistic encouragement, though, came out this year. If you get a chance, check out Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic. It's wonderful. Even though it doesn't give prompts, it makes you want to create (at least it did me). It made me start journaling again. And made me want to submit my poetry to magazines again. It's great if you feel stuck.

    1. Yes, I thought of both Bird by Bird and On Writing, and I wish I'd looked into them more before jumping into The Sound of Paper. I think some books of encouragement might have been just what I'd needed if they were inspiring enough to get me writing!

      Oh yes, I have heard such good things about Elizabeth Gilbert's latest book! I confess, I haven't read anything by her before, but Big Magic looks like a book I'll need to check out!


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