Live the Dream – Writing in Paris
Can you be conspicuously a writer? It’s important that you sometimes write in public—because you never know when an idea will strike and if you’re unused to writing in public or embarrassed about writing in public, if an idea strikes you when you’re out and about you may let it pass you by. Don’t do that! Get used to writing out in the world.
The dream of writing in Paris has always included writing in the middle of Parisian life, whether sitting at a tiny table at one of the famous cafés—Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore or La Coupole—sitting on a bench at one of the legendary parks—The Luxembourg Gardens, The Tuileries Garden, or the Place des Vosges—or writing exactly wherever you happened to find yourself. Can’t you see yourself penning dialogue for your screenplay among the acrobats in front of the Centre Georges Pompidou or finishing your sonnet while being silently watched by a Parisian mime?
What writer hasn’t wanted this?
There is always an “inside” component to my deep writing workshop: a chance for participants to sit quietly among like-minded souls in the excellent silence that writers writing together creates. In Paris our “inside” work will take place each morning at the American Graduate School in Paris on Boulevard Raspail, a stone’s throw from La Coupole and Le Select.
Then, in the afternoon, we get to go out and write en plein air! We’ll spend one afternoon in the Luxembourg Gardens, another in the Place des Vosges, and a third in the Jardin des Plantes. Then I have a special treat in mind for my writers: an afternoon in the hidden-away Roman amphitheater Arenes de Lutece, a spot that virtually no tourist or the average Parisian is likely to stumble upon, even though it is close by the bustling Rue Mouffetard market street.
Saved from destruction in the nineteenth century by Victor Hugo and other Parisian writers and intellectuals, the Arenes de Lutece dates from the first century AD and is thought to be the longest amphitheater of its kind ever constructed by the Romans. Not a bad place to write!
Why write outside? For all the obvious reasons: that it is lovely to have life swirl around you as you create, that cafés, parks, and writers have always gone together, that people-watching is its own great joy. But there’s also an even more important reason. Writing outside, where people can see you writing, makes you “conspicuous,” just as painting en plein air makes a painter conspicuous. This brave act of writing or painting in full public view helps build your artist identity. You become more of a writer by writing in public!
A surprisingly large number of writers, and virtually all would-be writers, do not identify strongly enough as a writer. They say things like, “I can’t call myself a writer until I’m famous” or “I can’t call myself a writer until I’ve had several novels published” or “I can’t call myself a writer if I don’t write all the time.” By saying this to themselves, by failing to fully inhabit their writer identity, they make it that much harder for themselves to write. Writing outdoors, conspicuously and in full view, helps counteract this failure to self-identify as a writer.
The act of writing en plein air also reminds you that you are obliged to write wherever you are when an idea strikes you. If you don’t jot down your own important ideas when you happen to find yourself in a bus station, on a supermarket line, or picking up your dry cleaning, what will happen to those ideas? They are likely to vanish, never to return. A writer mustn’t let her ideas vanish like that! A good idea is too precious and a writer’s only real capital is her ideas. By writing outdoors you get used to writing anywhere, which is exactly what every writer must do.
There’s a third reason, too. Sometimes you have to take a vacation not from your writing but with your writing. Your writing can get tired of your everyday studio, just as you can get tired of that same old place. Another hour at the same desk, in the same chair, looking past the same curtains at the same view. Yes, you must write there most of the time: that is both honorable and necessary. But sometimes a vacation is required! There is no place your writing wants to visit more than the boulevards, cafés, and parks of Paris. If you are a writer or even if you are just thinking about writing, come join me in Paris in June. How can you not?
Are you used to writing in public? If you aren’t, are you ready to begin?