You Can’t Write if you Don’t Read–and Listen—and Look!

trees2This may not be news to some of you. It may be a good reminder for those of you who have fallen off the “good writing habits” wagon. There is absolutely nothing that you can read, listen to, or view that can’t become fodder for your own writing topics.

If there is anything that helps writers engage with their innate or practiced talents it is having to create a story based on a visual prompt. A friend recently asked me to collaborate on a book project with him. He had created a series of pictures. He wanted a story to go with them. I happen to have included in my syllabi over the years, assignments that included writing prompts that were solely images. The coursework idea came from an NPR interview in which an author had mentioned that something she witnessed in nature fed her curiosity, leading her to do research, which led her to create a work of autobiographical fiction. First, she looked. She saw. Then she read. Then she wrote. I’ve always loved this exercise and the surprising results in the classroom but did not expect that it would become so influential in my own process. But, here I am writing to you, writing a manuscript, teaching new groups of hopeful writers and reluctant college students. Nothing is wasted when it come to engaging with the world with all of your senses.

What do you see in the picture above? I see a narrowing of focus created by the gradual lowering of the branches. Like a telescope in reverse. My fiction choice would be in the mode of a kind of Alice in Wonderland falling down in to a smaller world of possibilities. My nonfiction choice would be to debate which is more beautiful: Nature left alone or sculpted and planned. Very rough ideas at best, but that is the planning stage, right? These choices make up the adventure and the pain of the writer’s life.

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Can You Write Fiction and NonFiction at the Same Time?

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For me, no. I certainly can’t even work on more than one project at a time these days even if they are both nonfiction. I have been absent from my site because I’ve been consumed with finding time to do a research paper. I need to produce a more recent writing sample than I have on hand for grad school applications. My brain cannot seem to stop the  search for more content even when I’m not officially working on the essay. Anything else has been hard to think about. It’s kind of like an actor who must stay in the character even between takes or over the period of the shoot in order to feel most connected to the essence of their role.

Many people can multitask their writing and I’m envious. Is it their time availability? Is it their dedication? Is it just how some people are wired? I once listened to someone on the radio talking about how they believed certain athletes had a kind of metaphorical “muscle” in them that they could turn on or use to block out all distractions and self doubt when competing. I certainly do not have that one or I did not know how to develop it well, that’s for sure.

So, maybe I am just a “one focus” kind of writer. I think I like to immerse myself in the project fully and then when it’s all finished (or at least the deadline is met—are we ever really finished?), I feel free to pay full attention to the next goal. It seems to be working so far. I may risk a stasis in the number of followers I have, but those of you who are here and sticking with me are just as important as the new entities out there.

What ever kind of writing “muscle” you have or choose to develop, it’s your game and you’re the only one keeping score. Just make the most of whatever it is that you have.

We Are All Movers of Obstacles

Meditation does not guarantee peace. It is very much the job of the mind to encroach upon our precious moments and deposit obligations, regrets, great plans, and worry any moment there is a chance of quiet or calm, and our consciousness often acquiesces to these distractions because they are so incredibly strong and very important to us. After all, they design and direct our goals and create a structure for our behavior.

imagesThese obstructions, like many others, are possible to move aside given that you have the right fulcrum. There is no certainty of the existence of a chant or theory that will be the catalyst for your “aha” moment, but, what is certain, is that you can create it for yourself. You are the foundation of your quieted mind.

I came to agree with this ideology—as I often do come to understandings or even questions—as I lay upon my yoga mat after an especially vigorous class. On this day, the outside world and its cares were rather easily forgotten. Like many of us, I do have a tendency to let shopping lists or big ideas flow around when I should be savoring my down time. The darkness was let in and welcomed and the familiar horizontal streaks of insistent daylight played in front of my lids. As I let go, images and lights flashed around incoherently. As they gelled, I had a vision that each of my fellow practitioners was sitting upon her mat in the form of Ganesha and each had a flame over her head. The room was not fully formed, so the background was a general haze of pale yellowish light. I was mesmerized and fascinated and happy and still disengaged from interpretation or analysis. As the voice of my teacher, Alison Levine, gently enticed us back to the moment, I held on to the feeling of wonder.

When I discussed this with Allison, neither of us really knew what to think of this. Obviously we knew it was Ganesha and I have a fondness for that deity, but that did not help me understand why he was manifested as a student and topped with the tongue of a flame as you’d see in relation to the Holy Ghost in Christian scriptures. I was raised Catholic so it’s possible some of the love and beauty from these teachings aligned with this deity, and being blessed with the Holy Spirit is much like being filled with the confidence of the Mover of Obstacles. But Ganesha is related to wisdom and intellect–a guide for those who prefer more active engagement with spirituality. I see the Holy Spirit related to surrender rather than action.

Interestingly, Ganesha is also associated with writers and a writer must remove any obstruction that impedes the creative or analytical process. Inspiration is really not an outside force, but an inner movement motivated by openness to possibilities. Upon reflection I felt a sense of surety that I was identifying each student present as their own mover of obstacles if not in life, in practice on the mat. We were all capable of embodying the idea of challenge and the flame was a reiteration of being infused with this potential.

This idea of possibilities in yoga crosses in to my teaching and writing often. The end is not always what I am concerned with , but the process and what coming to the mat, computer, or notepad may ignite. Your initial intention may very well be moved aside to make room for more or different experiences and output.

As you know, there is much out there on how to remove negative mantras from our thinking patterns, and the term “mindfulness” is becoming a mainstream catch phrase. But do we always find a personal connection to these pieces of advice or terms? And what about those who are interfered with by outside forces rather than internal and who may not have the spiritual resources, yet, to circumvent or fully remove these human or financial trees from the path? I find that when people say “get rid of excuses” or some such maxim, there is insight lacking in their statement. Excuses are formed of matter that bad experiences (perceived or real), low energy (spiritual or physical), and poor self esteem merge to create. An excuse is a symbol of much deeper concerns, not a generic barrier used to casually avoid change. BUT, once the platform for the excuse is restructured or razed, the practiced rationalization is no longer so dear or poignant to the person’s personal rhetoric. The obstacle has been removed or reworked and a new story can be written.

What is your obstacle? Is it a tangible object or a thought that impedes your forward momentum? As a practitioner, do you find any particular impediment to your practice or your quiet mind?

 

Let’s Weigh in on Fan Fiction

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As I sat with a friend of mine on a recent evening, we started talking about these last posts about the Memoir and the subject turned to other genres that I had not spent time reflecting on. Then she said, “Write about fan fiction!” Hmmm, I don’t really know much about fan fiction actually but I am definitely in favor of any medium that gets writers writing and finding their own voice.

I actually have the button  you see pictured here. I used to work in a comic book store in Baltimore and we had these as promos for an issue of a Wolverine comic. It cracked me up in general but I never really thought about who the fans were and why they were dedicated enough to earn so much ribbing. After all, aren’t fans the only thing that keeps you in business?

When you think about it, we’ve all been inspired (or annoyed) by the authors we read when in school or that we found in our excursions to the library, or Amazon, or the bookstore (remember those?). I just never really thought about the concerted effort so many people have put in to developing entire stories and lives around existing characters. To write a vampire story is not new. To create an entirely new planet is not new. But to write about existing vampires or colonies in other universes is very curious to me. But I do know what it is to feel lost or lonely when a story or trilogy or some such ends. I have often missed some characters and wished they would return somehow. I remember when Anne McCaffrey died. I was faced with the end of her dragon riders. Even if she were not planning to do more with Pern, the possibility was open as long as she was here. Now, even with her son carrying on, it’s still not her. BUT this is where the fans come in right? They keep the legends and the people alive and offer a continuation of the world she created or let this one branch out to the next, much like the originators of Pern did when they arrived on this new planet. Why not stay in touch?

Basically, everyone has a story and it’s important to tell it. Is it for family? I have worked for year for my dear friend Ruth Wolf as she compiled a family history for her many grand and great-grandchildren. Is it for the public? An in-group of other avid fans of particular authors who all feel connected through particular stories? Is it for the love of writing alone and you allow what boils up from inside to guide you?

You are interesting. Whatever you want to write is up to you as long as you hone your craft and never feel that you are done learning and observing. If emulating a stye is what drives you to experiment, great. If writing fan fiction and staying within the existing world that another created rings true with you, great. Are you a Memoirist who shares your experiences for those who could learn from your life or be inspired by it? Great. Maybe your memoirs work for personal as well as professional goals.

It’s all what truly resonates within you and never let anyone tell you your choices are not marketable or timely. You decide what you create and then decide how it will live on. If you reach enough people, maybe your own tales will continue on when you’ve stopped or have moved on. So, write on Fan Boys and Girls!

Yoga, Writing, and Who You Really Are

A friend of mine just e-mailed an article to me that discusses what your favorite yoga poses tell you about yourself. Never mind the obvious issues of being in shape or still learning, because even something new or difficult can be stimulating to pursue. So what you decide to keep working on very well may tell you what you need or want in life in general.

I avoid side plank and am afraid of many inversions and don’t keep at them as much. But there are other poses that are difficult that I don’t avoid. Hmmm.

Those of you who know my work know then that this will continue on to a discussion of writing. And what does your writing say about you? I should ask first what does your reading say about you? Really, do you reach for People at the dentist’s office or Time? Do you buy books you think you should read while really wanting  to read something else? Either way, why?

I found myself today reaching to buy a book I thought I should read because I had been neglecting my studies in Irish literature. I wanted to read Neil Gaiman’s latest book of short stories. Gaiman won out. Who’s going to penalize me? After all, I dabble in the short story myself. How am I going to learn and improve if I don’t read the masters? I am not talking only of the members of the  literary cannon, but those whom I believe to be worthy of the title of master. Frankly, some writers are not to my taste and, no matter what their status in the literary community, I don’t prefer to read them–yet (or again). So do I not appreciate the writers I avoid or am I not ready to experience them fully? Can I fully embrace and engage in the profession of writing if I only read what I want instead of including what I should? You are wondering why I am not mentioning other authors’ names. This is simply because I want you to focus more on yourself and  your own questions about investigation and experience than debating my taste or choices. I’d rather you ask yourself about your choices and aversions and see where that leads.

As you read the article, see if you find out something new about yourself through your yoga practice. If you don’t practice yoga or not regularly, insert genres or authors in place of the poses and see what you find out about yourself.

http://life.gaiam.com/article/what-does-your-favorite-yoga-pose-say-about-you

I’m interested in your reactions  . . .

 

All Experience is Relevant to All of Our Creativity

No experience is ever a waste. If you make an effort to understand your behavior in the context of the cause-and-effect pattern of our world, you can see, in your own time, how you come to react to events physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. Never one to blame the victim or settle for this unfocused “everything happens for a reason” catchphrase, I do hold to the idea that we make very specific choices that lead to the encounter in question. No, you did not give yourself cancer, or “ask” to be victimized in a robbery, or shunned by people who disagree with you. But you chose to go to the doctor and get a diagnoses. You chose to exercise your right to walk outside alone  or voice your opinion. Within these actions, someone or some people made their choices.

Your job is to dissect the experience and figure out what to take away from the moment. Be thankful you got the diagnoses when you did. You could make the plans that save you or keep you in control of your care. Be mindful that you have the right to function unmolested and the perpetrator is at fault. Even If you have voiced opinions and viewpoints with respect and compassion, frankness and certitude, couldn’t someone still potentially have an issue with them? The presentation may be well done but not everyone has the ability to receive the content with measured, objective analysis. If you were rude or inappropriate, well . . .

OK, you ask, where does this fit into your overall theme of writing? Nope, it’s not just recording the events or remembering the emotions for your characters that may be placed in this scenario. This is for your personal as well as professional well being. How do stories come to you? How do job contacts come to you? How do you filter the world around you so that experiences can be treasured as affirmation of your strengths and value? Not indignation and proof of being “right,” but proof of being here as you. And how do these realizations undergo a kind of transformation into text.

These acknowledgments affect your tone and your choice of subject matter. You reject or accept your responses to and feelings about the world when you write. My own longing for a sense of relevance and worth today has pushed my ego into the fore and pushed me to reach out here, now. If I were not disappointed in having opened myself to public rudeness because I was trusting and assumed that someone I did not know would have integrity (see my post Kindness in Writing), I would not be admonishing you to be mindful and careful about your writing self. Ultimately, since there was nothing illegal or permanently damning in my recent  experience that might require overt confrontation and action, it became a platform for reflection and this post is my catharsis. My choice to filter the experience in a healthy way.

I wish all experiences could be so easily resolved and that I had the wisdom and fortitude to regularly forgive others their unkindness, folly, and unprofessional acts, and myself my own wrong choices and mistakes. But, that is why we call yoga a practice and our writing will need revisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Your Word Count? It May Reflect Your Style.

I just recently wrote about Colum Mcann and how his recent New Yorker article triggered my creative juices and awakened my curiosity about the world in general and the writing world in particular. As I watched an interview with David Brooks–one of my favorite essayists–on Q&A tonight, I was again charged up to get back to my keyboard and push myself out of my best intentions and actually write. One of the things he said reinvigorated my sense of belonging and self acceptance in the world of writing. Actually there were many points he made. The first was that he confirmed that writing is terrible and hard. It’s work, people. Unforgiving moody, vacillating in submission to your will, erratic, and glorious. Like some drugs. And, like coming down, you cannot be left with the illusion of greatness for long. In some moments, you come out of your reverie and find that the world is the same as you left it and the magnificence of your dreamy outpourings is full of holes and generalizations. Except in this case there is produced something concrete to review and something that maybe able to affect the future.

Brooks also stated that every writer has his word limit. Not the exact statement but I can’t remember the specifics. His point was that we have in us a natural comfort or effectiveness with specific lengths. The essence was that a writer may very well shine in a particular word count as well as genre. Eureka for me!!!!! I like my blogs. I like the short story. I’m not a verbose person much less writer. I am more comfortable working on small, separate blogs that may be related thematically and may be potentially turned into something larger or on short fictions that pinpoint a moment so profound to the characters that it is larger than those before or after.

Of course, Brooks was not saying that short works are ok to stick with if you just always run out of ideas or just don’t have much to say. A good writer has something to say and an impression to make, so let’s not cheat and say that Brooks said we don’t have to try or should be a person who simply stops writing at a number reached. Create something worth reading. It’s ALL hard if you do it right.

I prefer straight to the point, compartmentalized pieces of communication. With time and practice, I may become a more prolific writer of longer works. For now, these blasts of sharing buoy my spirit and energize me.

But what kind of writer are you? What is your comfortable word count? And is this per idea, subject, or writing session? Brooks admitted to having a time limit that he cannot pass without producing mediocre work. I think we owe it to ourselves to note our own boundaries and use them for a kind of framework in which to perfect our skills. Don’t fight it, count it.