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Writer's Guides: Writing Down the Bones

Ever since I resolved to get myself back into writing, I reached into my bookshelf for the books on writing* I've bought over the years. Some I have read and used and came back to over and over while there is a lot that simply became my writer's reference section. Suddenly, they all seem very useful.

The now classic Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is a good place to start and I have referenced this wonderful book in my entries from the past few days.

I was a young man taking a poetry writing class when I bought the first of several copies I've bought over the years. The professor had us use it as a guide and I remember reading it and being completely blown away with what Goldberg had to say.

Natalie Goldberg doesn't offer technical advice. There isn't anything about how to plot or how to structure. Instead, she teaches the reader about practice, trusting one's own mind, and letting go. It is Zen for writers.

Additionally, there are prompts and discussions of process and Goldberg's stories about teaching and her own practice. As a teacher and a writer starting back into my practice, I appreciate them, but I'm also opening the book and looking at it fresh.

It's coming back to that beginner's mind and letting go of those previous readings and getting something new out of it. It's not just about the reading, but the practice, whether it is putting pen to paper or using some other tool. Creating the space and being present are very basic yet essential no matter how far I go into this practice.

 

*Here is the list of writing books:

  1. Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down The Bones
  2. Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
  3. Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way
  4. Rachel Simon, The Writer's Survival Guide
  5. Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer
  6. Jeff Vandermeer, Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Writing Imaginative Fiction
  7. Jessica Page Morrell, The Writer's I Ching (with card deck)
  8. Naomi Epel, The Observation Deck: A Toolkit for Writers (cards and guide)
  9. Jamie Cat Callan, The Writer's Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the “Write” of Your Brain (game kit)

There are more titles I can name, maybe later.

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Beginner's Mind

In the first chapter of Writing Down the Bones, “Beginner's Mind, Pen, and Paper,” Natalie Goldbergtells the writer who picks this book up, "In a sense, the beginner's mind is what we must come back to every time we sit down and write." It's easy to think about how profound this sounds. However, its a reminder of no matter how much you've written or what you have achieved, it's always a starting over when one writes. As I haven't really written in a while, this is a good place to come back to.

It's also very challenging. In my case, I've taken many creative writing workshops in my youth and thought getting into an MFA program would validate me as a writer and then I could step my way into breaking out into the literary world. Sometime later. I got a portfolio together and applied for to program and got the MFA. It didn't make me a literary star, but I did get work as an adjunct instructor teaching community college English courses. I also taught English as a foreign language. In these jobs, I've reached people in their beginner minds. It's easy to as a teacher. However, with experience and even some measure of authority, it can be difficult to get into this mindset.

With all the experience and education I can discuss, there is baggage that comes with it, whether it's the times I had a case of the Dunning-Kruger (being too confident of my abilities) or the complete opposite where I felt completely destroyed in workshops. Also, I've been frustrated with feeling that I wasn't understood by my peers from an artistic standpoint. This is all stuff that can be let go.

I can let go of my pride and my fear and my frustration. I can also let go of the experiences, good or bad. I can let go of the bad teacher who built me up until he decided to destroy me. I can let go of that student who thought she could teach my class when I was a TA. I can let go of the guy who liked nothing better than to tear his classmates down. I can let go of everything from those times.

I can check these inhibiting factors and others as I become aware of them.

Having a beginner's mind gives me the permission to fail, to make mistakes, to have what Anne Lamott calls "shitty first drafts."

I can also check whatever writer fetishes that I may have picked over the years like Moleskines and fountain pens and any other trappings and do away with them. I once had the perfect writerly apartment and it was a struggle to work in, just like those nicely bound notebooks.

I have to admit I find the Notes app on my iPhone very good for getting thoughts out similar to how Natalie Goldberg suggest cheap spiral bound notebooks. It's not an app I take too seriously as a writing tool. I can also experiment with the cheap notebooks too. Overall, whatever tools I use, it's important to have the beginner's mindset.

In conclusion, I can look at any start to writing as starting again. I may knock it out of the park, but there will be false starts and things that don't work and things I still need to learn. And if I have to learn something again or learn something I feel I should know, but don't, that is OK.

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2018: Welcome and Be Resplendent!

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2018: Welcome and Be Resplendent!

Welcome to The Shindoverse Notebook, where I record musings and projects and works in progress.

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I’ve been working on this new website for some time. It’s mainly designed to feature Resplendence, my MFA creative writing project and related work. Most of it was finished last year, but I kept putting off the finishing touches where it was ready for public viewing. I have procrastinated enough and the new year was a good time as any to get started. 

I’ve also been procrastinating on the writing, art, and other things I want to do and now is a good time to get going on those things. A few years ago, I scribbled down “Be Resplendent!” and it’s easy to say. It’s wonderful advice. The difficulty is in following your own advice. 

This year, I want to take my own advice. This may be making more images of the Gold Lady. It may be writing my personal stories. Visiting faraway planets and their civilizations in my fiction counts. Picking up books and reading them definitely. It may also be learning how to play a musical instrument. Most of all, helping others be resplendent is part of that’s.  

Happy new year and welcome. Be resplendent! 

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250-500+ Words: A Daily Writing Goal

This new year, like other new years before, I made some resolutions. One of them was to write every day, or at least write with more frequency than I have before. I’ve taken writing classes and have even gone through an MFA creative writing program, yet the discipline to write can be elusive. This is something I want to change in this comings year. 

There are all kinds of reasons and excuses I find for not writing. Here are a few: 

  • I am not in the right frame of mind. 
  • I am too exhausted to think about it. 
  • Teaching exhausts me.
  • I don’t have the time as I got too much to do.
  • The blank page is daunting. 
  • I can’t translate my imagination into text. 
  • I suck at this. 

I am not in the right frame of mind can cover every bullet point above, but I’ll focus on the first three. Often, I have avoided writing because of emotional reasons and/or other mental states. My most common reason in this category is that I am overwhelmed or too hyperstimulated to focus. It is fair to say that I am actually too exhausted to think about it. This is more common for me later in the day, especially when I have been through work, taught a class, had to deal with people, or all of these things. All my creative, intellectual, and emotional energy often gets used up in these situations.

That I often don’t have time as I got much to do isn’t unique to me. Almost everyone I knew has this problem. I do need to work for a living and that takes up a lot time. Showing up takes a lot of time, but so does any obligation outside of the classroom such as preparation and meeting students and professional development. Then there is the commuting. And things that demand my time aren’t limited to work such as family, responsibilities at home, and making time to be social.

I often think that I suck at this. Whether I have internalized what someone said about my work or that language hasn’t always come easy for me, I let my lack of confidence stop me. This can manifest itself when conditions are more ideal for me to write such as it being early in the day or that I made some time in the day to sit down and write. I find the blank page daunting and I have already anticipated the criticism before I even began. And even though I know writing is a process, the idea of writing something out and having it completely suck is enough to stop me in my tracks. And this is the type of thinking that leads me into thinking I can’t translate my imagination into words.

These are the general obstacles I see in my life to writing more regularly. As I move forward, I can keep these things in mind and think about solutions and workarounds to what I have discussed. However, my goal is to make writing on a regular basis a practice. This isn’t merely writing for the sake of writing but actively creating the stories I want to create.

My goal is to write 250-500+ words a day. This fits in with Kevin Whelan’s “A Writer’s Declaration,” where he resolves to write 250 words as his daily goal and that every subject is fit for his pen. That sounds like a good plan to adopt. This blog entry clocks in at 597 words.

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Kevin Whelan’s “A Writer’s Declaration,” this copy given to me by a wonderful creative writing profesor many years ago in my MFA program.

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