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Creativity

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Getting Back into Writing Practice

It’s been a while since I posted here. It’s been too long. I am rereading Long Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg, where she shares her life and her insights about the practice of writing. I’ve long been familiar with her other book Writing Down the Bones, which gives some good insight and prompts. Though I read it a long time ago, Long Quiet Highway was what I needed this week. I felt prompted to get back into practice. This is what I wrote down:

I need to make a regular practice with writing. I can take at least 15 minutes a day to write down something in my notebook. That is 15 minutes more than if I didn’t write at all. I can wake up a bit earlier to do this. My mind is fresh then. I can do this after I arrive to work from my commute.

I resolve to be as honest and as candid as I can be in my writing practice. I may not always share this writing with others, but I resolve to get to that scary place where I am afraid to articulate that story. It’s often sexual or something I’m not proud of. There are also things that may be somewhere in between, that I’m afraid I’ll be judged. I have been holding back on my stories and I resolve not to hold back anymore.

To write this stuff down is like getting naked and that’s always been scary. It’s easier in where it’s a naked space like the locker room of a gym or the sauna. It’s a little more like Black’s Beach, but more people are more often clothed than not. It’s a lot more like being on a stage with no clothes on or being an artist’s model. All is out there to see. Writing is exposing and that is scary.

Writing is more interesting when there are those details that show you’re letting the reader in. I’ve always been afraid of that. I worried about what personal detail would be out in the open. I’ve also worried about who I would hurt in the telling of the story.

I take this risk by putting all this down, to write them down in a notebook.I put those first thoughts down as well.

I want to say everything and freeze up when it comes time to. Or, I say everything at once. Here, I can take the time to say one thing at a time. I can always unpack as I go along. I can always revisit it later.

This is taking the time to write a bit every day, to get the first thoughts down.

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This was 361 words in 15 minutes. Kevin Welan resolved to write 250 words a day in his resolution, which I got from Joanne Meschery, a wonderful visiting creative writing professor I studied with in the MFA program. In any case, the word count can sound daunting on its own, but this is about writing regularly. I may post some of this pages. I also reserve the right not to share some if I’m not comfortable sharing. But it is my hope that even being honest and candid in those entries will help me in telling my stories. When I finished the first reread of Long Quiet Highway, I cried. Natalie Goldberg’s story about Katagiri Roshi was indeed moving. However, her discussion of the practice and getting to the energy of those first thoughts spoke to me about how I held back my stories and there was a lot of untapped energy there.

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Writer’s Guides: The Artist’s Way

Once upon a time, I took an Artist’s Way workshop. This was post-MFA with me having taught for a couple of years and feeling frustrated about not really getting any writing done. Meanwhile, a friend who is a self-taught poet was inspired by Interview with a Vampire and went down the rabbit hole of vampire literature and films and movies in teaching himself how to write his own vampire novel. This same friend told me about the Artist Way Workshop that was facilitated by a friend of his.

I knew about Julia Cameron’s book for many years, but shied away from it. It sounded New Agey, like drum circles. But there are times in one's life when one needs something like that, so I decided to give it a try.

It's hard to get away from the spiritual component of The Artist's Way. Cameron isn't the only one to advance this idea of creativity being a spiritual thing as there's the Zen connection in Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones and the Christianity that guides Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. Cameron doesn't come from a specific faith or tradition in her approach, though invites the reader who's picked up her book to see themselves as being made in the image of the image of the Creator to be creators themselves.

While a theme of this book is following your creative passion, it's not about getting caught up in a vague spirituality. Julia Cameron gives a prescription for self-care long before it became a term while walking the reader through practice with plenty of activities and prompts, like morning pages, artist dates, and assignments to tap into one's creativity.

Through it all, it is about pursuing art safely in the safe space you make for yourself. A term that stuck out for me is crazy maker, that person who obstructs or details you from own creative journey. While we need other people, especially those who encourage us as creatives, we don't need the self-serving, abusive people who keep us from moving forward.

All of us can identify crazy makers in our lives and something that becomes clear in this book is that we are not to be crazy makers ourselves, but people who also support other creatives.

This is where the workshop comes in. I met some wonderful people in those sessions, some of whom I still keep in touch with in some way. Some people took what they were doing already further, while others made different creative decisions. I didn't pick up on my writing, but I did decide to learn how to sew. This was something I always wanted to do. Also, my lacking this skill was something that held me back when I was a high school senior applying to get into a fashion school. I wanted to do fashion design, but got shunted into visual presentation. I was still pursuing my visual art passion at the time, but I had also limited myself from what I actually wanted to do. I suppose it's not too late. I don't think I'd want to now. I can still make fabulous clothes for myself, but I digress.

The workshop followed the 14 week structure given in the book. The facilitator in my group stuck largely to the script, but he also added his own shamanism and his framework of the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy's journey and the symbols from the book and film added greatly to the his lessons. For him, creativity was about the magic and he would even wave his fingers at me or someone else to transmit it.

It had been years since then that I had picked up the book. I don't think I even had it anymore, so last week, I went to Bookofff with the purpose of buying it and I managed to find it. It's no small feat to find a book you're specifically looking for in a used bookstore, so this was synchronicity.

The workshop's facilitator died a couple of years ago, so I also see it as his magic lives on and that it was no accident that I found it. I've been going through it and remembering his lessons, but also seeing what Julia Cameron has to say with fresh eyes.

 

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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