Viewing entries tagged
writer’s block

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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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Facebook and Orange Haze

Over the years, I have come to have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love the connectedness I have with the various groups of people in my life. I hate that I can spend too much time chasing updates. I like when people share funny or interesting updates. I hate that the updates have now become non-stop articles about the orange haze. No, I’m not going to name that, but I’m sure you have a good idea already.

This has become the great crazy maker (to borrow that Artist’s Way phrase) of our time. I’ve gotten to where I’ve gotten rid of the personal crazy makers in my life such as certain friends, a significant other, and even a toxic mentor and my challenge became to cultivate sane contacts, whether they have been in my life for a while or I starting to know them. Now there’s a crazy maker in the background and I didn’t say yes. It’s more like having someone scream outside my house nonstop and I don’t want to acknowledge him, so I play the music to maximum volume.

I understand I’m not alone. I see it on friends’ posts. The problem has become that it’s all I see now.

Before, my problem was that Facebook took my time, my thoughts, and words. I resented yet, yet I could not stop.

Every year, I see friends give up Facebook for Lent. Forty days they don’t post and then they are back at it again. I’ve never tried it as I try to turn this abstaining practice of Lent into something life-changing. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that is the intention.

Here, I have to acknowledge that Facebook changed my life. I’m not saying that it’s great, but i’m not saying it’s horrible. I don’t always like it, though.

There is the orange haze I mentioned earlier. That it shows up in my newsfeed constantly makes me feel like I’m forced to stare at something with my eyelids cut off. There’s the time suck that was an issue long before. And it has a way of taking up time that can be used for reading or writing.

The funny thing is since Facebook is still primarily a text medium is that it doesn’t add greatly to the reading anyone does. I believe that it’s that the reading one does on Facebook isn’t active. People often react and miss things and context is lost. And outrage takes over everything.

In the midst of all that, I see posts that add up to compelling stories. I see interesting ideas and insights from friends. However, it’s the reactive side of posts I see more.

For me, if I decided to try to quit Facebook cold turkey, I would be back right away. It’s what happened when I tried removing the app from my iPhone and iPad. I re-downloaded them shortly after.

I have found that making these blog posts have helped. I don’t want to take as much time as I have before. I haven’t posted this much this week. It’s an opportunity to rethink how I engage on that medium and how much I want to engage elsewhere. It’s also made me think of how I can use that time for things I want to do such as writing and my artwork.

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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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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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