Are You a Talented Derelict?

The creative life has to be kept in order on a regular basis. It’s not good enough to go to it for one day, or a few, a couple times a year. Creativity requires the luxury of time, which we must carve out for ourselves—even if it’s only fifteen minutes. Creative people need that luxury of time: time with friends, time with family, time to themselves with no agenda, even time to do their creative work.

We know in our bones what is right and what to do about it. Even if we say this is not so. Even if we will not admit it out loud. Even if the rigors of life distance us from our deeply intuitive lives. Even if, for reasons that seemed like good ones at the time, we have accepted permanent exile from our creativity impulses.

The truth is that creative people who don’t take time to take care of their creative life become very, very cranky. I have heard all the excuses that any creative person might knit up: I can’t right now. I’m not talented. I’m bored. I’m not important. I’m not educated enough. I have no ideas. I don’t know how. I don’t know what. I don’t know when. I don’t know why. I’m too busy. I don’t have time. I don’t have money. I don’t…I don’t…I don’t…

The promise of a creative life is very scary.

But, perhaps you didn’t know that being scared is most often very, very good for a creative person: it shows us what will happen if we allow ourselves to become talented derelicts. And often that’s scary enough to scare us back into creating again.

Don’t spend time wondering how you lost your way. It can be difficult to know exactly where we lost our way, for it is an insidious process, one that doesn’t occur in one day, but rather over a long period of time. We learn early to act on what others say, value and expect. Thus, we walk a long way down the wrong path before realize we did not actually choose this road.

Turn around, find your path. Walk your path.

A Writerly Life: Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood, despite her enormous output, does not write every day.

She said: “You always think, ‘Oh, if only I had a little chalet in the mountains! How great that would be and I’d do all this writing…’ Except, no, I wouldn’t. I’d do the same amount of writing I do now and the rest of the time I’d go stir crazy. If you’re waiting for the perfect moment you’ll never write a thing because it will never arrive. I have no routine. I have no foolproof anything. There’s nothing foolproof.”

This woman gives me hope!

Writing Practice: the dreaded 15 minute write

Almost every writing teacher argues that the basic unit of writing is writing practice, usually a timed exercise, with the admonition that through practice you actually do get better.

However, I have never enjoyed exercises like: Look at a plant. Write the life of the plant – what it’s done, what it’s seen, where it’s heading, its thoughts. I have never found advice like, try writing in your notebook upside down, or turn the book sideways, or write outside the margins to be helpful. I just do not believe that these small tasks will force me to think in creative ways, that forcing my brain to think outside the lines will make me a better writer.

I used to despise writing practice.

I felt like I had little enough precious time and I did not want to fritter it away on writing that was just practice. After rereading Brande’s Becoming a Writer, Campbell’s The Artist’s Way, Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor, I revised my aversion to writing practice. I mixed up their ideas and came up with a system that works for me, and it is one that I now encourage my writing students to use as well.

I advocate writing for either fifteen minutes or three pages, whichever comes first. However, from there my approach differs. I warm up with the first page of writing. I am primping the pump, so the rules are simple: Write without stopping. Do not be concerned with being good. It is warming up the writing muscle, just like stretches warm up our physical muscles.

But after the first page is done, I switch to deliberate writing, and this different type of writing. This is where I deviate from Brande, Goldberg and Campbell. In the next two pages I generate new writing. It’s deliberate. It’s specific. This advice does not originate with me—I got it from Priscilla Long who said, “The writing done in writing practice can be about anything . . .It can be an observation exercise. It can be work on an essay, story, article, or scene. It can be used to conceptualize new work” (p. 15,16).

Since I read that advice a year ago, I have done writing practice almost every day. I have written poetry. I have done character sketches. I have drafted new essays. I have done observation exercises. I’ve moaned and complained (I do it once in a while). Usually, I plan, conceptualize and draft new work.

I agree with Long when she says, “In a busy life, a week and then two weeks can go by in no time at all, with little or no writing done. The practice of writing for fifteen minutes per day simply deletes this problem” (p. 15). More importantly, writing for fifteen minutes a day helps commit to safekeeping a woman’s writing life.

#MondayGoals

Monday is a good day to start a new writing project. Research, bonafied peer-reviewed research, suggests that we may be more likely to actually follow through with our writing goals, if we start on a Monday rather than another day of the week. Monday signals a new beginning; and a new beginning provides a motivating and meaningful fresh start. Researchers found that this fresh start effect may have a serious impact on our real world behaviors. Essentially we are more empowered and motivated to pursue our goals when we start on a Monday.

#MondayGoals

Write in spite of everything and everybody. When it comes to your writing, ignore the dream snatchers. Don’t let someone put a period where God put a comma.

#Mondaygoals #dream #dontstop #keepon #findaway #beintentional #plan #purpose #womanwriter

1 Easy Way to Become a Better Writer

Writing is a skill you must practice to hone. If you practice badly, eventually you’ll get really, really good at being really, really bad. You get good at writing by practicing the right things, instead of just writing whatever comes into your head. To write well, you have to internalize the basic sound and feel of good writing—which is something you can do by rote copying of excellent writing models.

To do this: pick a writer you admire. Find some of their work, and copy it, either with pen/pencil in your writer’s journal or on the computer. There is evidence that the mechanical act of copying great models is the key to rapid improvement. Plus, it can be a meditative practice, as it asks us to settle in and be present with the words, which I, personally, love.

I took a poetry writing class during my PhD. I was the only student who had never written poetry. The other students? Heck, one of them had been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in poetry! To get the most benefit from the class, I needed to get up to speed, fast! My methodology was simple: For writing practice, I copied the works of great poets. Every day, in my writing journal, on the left hand page, I would copy a poem or if the poem was really long, a passage from it. On the right hand side, I would write my own poem using the same style. By the end of the term, I was writing better poems that some of my class mates, and since then I’ve had a poem published and been an invited reader at two poetry readings. Does the method work? You tell me.

Writing Tip #10

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Write at a coffee shop. Yes, I’m serious. A crowded coffee shop may fire up your creativity. Researchers have done studies* that show that a moderate level of ambient noise, such as the whir of a coffee machine, improves performance on creative tasks by creating enough of a distraction to encourage people to think more imaginatively.

*yes, they research stuff like this.