Tag Archives: craft

Burn, Baby, Burn

Enough of these phrases, conceit and metaphors,
I want burning, burning, burning.
–Rumi

Am I writing from my head or from my heart?

From reason or from intuition?

From my rational, need-to-make-a-living mind or from my place of greatest, deepest passion?

Do you ask yourself these questions? If not, you should. Call it checking your creative temperature. If you find your head and reason responding more loudly than your heart and soul, chances are the difference is showing in your writing, too.

Beginning writing students often tell me they can’t find any approach to a particular topic, saying “Nothing about it interests me,” or “I don’t know anything about that.” They allow a temporary lack of inquisitiveness and curiosity threaten to stifle creativity. They let fear of failure and inadequacy build fences between them and their words.

I believe that if you look hard enough and long enough at almost any topic and you’ll find something about it to pique your interest. If you observe, listen, taste, and feel your way around a subject, you WILL find entry into the world of that particular story or song or character.

Life is fascinating. Humans are amazing and frustrating and complex. The world is beautiful, ugly, dark and light. You, dear writer, are gifted with an ability to see, to tell truth, to craft story from air and dust. So get to it. Don’t tell me (or yourself!) that you can’t kindle your words and images from the tiniest spark.

Sure, you may be able to write cogent, precise, and even elegant prose. But I want fire. I want to hear your heart sing and read the music of your words. I want to immerse myself in your story–be it real or fiction. Give me truth either way. Make me burn with you. Ignite my curiosity and stoke my energy. Help me see between, around, and through your words.

Go now. Dig deeply into your place of passion and fire. Take any kernel of reality or fantasy and set yourself on creative fire. Don’t tell me you can’t. Do not rely on your head and your reason; they may only disappoint and stifle you. They will tell you 1,000 reasons you can’t or shouldn’t or won’t. Go now. Create a conflagration. Tell me. Show me. Make fireworks of those words. Burn, baby, burn.

(Photo by matthewvenn used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)

 

 

Break Down the Blocks

“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'” — Maya Angelou

Oh yeah. We’ve all been there. Blank screen. Pristine, unmarked page. No words. Writer’s block can strike anyone at any time in any place. This malady has a particular fondness for creeping up whenever a deadline looms or you have a nice block of dedicated time for work.

Fortunately, writer’s block is rarely terminal and almost never fatal. One simply needs to have a few tools to break down the blocks. Next time you face the relenting blank screen or page try one or more of the techniques I usually find helpful:

  • Just walk away. Get up and leave the room. I like to take a walk around the neighborhood or spend a little time in the garden. If the weather’s rotten, get a cup of coffee or other favorite beverage and savor the flavor. Usually after 15-30 minutes I can go back to my work refreshed and with my creativity unclogged.
  • Press on. Just start typing (or get that pen/pencil scribbling). It doesn’t have to be about anything in particular; in fact, I often end up with a combo rant/lament about my inability to put anything coherent on paper. This can go on for several hundred words, but I find that the sustained act of writing and seeing words on paper usually helps me find a way to break through and an idea I can use.
  • Read someone else’s words. Pull your favorite classic fiction or poet off the shelf and read a passage that is meaningful to you. I am fond of Robert Frost, Billy Collins, and Mary Oliver in such situations. Shakespeare is another favorite for kick-starting my creativity.
  • Do something else creative for 30 minutes or so. Do you enjoy painting, knitting, woodwork, music, or dance? If so, turn to another creative endeavor to help unblock your mind and soul. A little diversion can make all the difference.
  • When all else fails, I turn to chocolate or a trip to my favorite local coffeehouse. Sometimes a change of atmosphere, a good cup ‘o joe, and something decadently chocolate will turn things around. Beware the caloric impact of this option.

Find the techniques that work best for you and take heart. You’re in good company. Even the best of the best hit the wall sometimes, but they don’t give up. The words come. Or, as William Stafford said, “Lower your standards and keep writing.”

Photo by Rennett Stowe used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

MAKE IT A HABIT

Writing is habit forming. At least it should be. If you really want to write, make the effort to write every day. Put ink to paper or fingers to keyboard and spit out some words.

What you write doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or prize-winning, but it does have to show up on screen or page. The aim is to make your writing as natural and necessary as breathing, a necessary and needful part of your daily life.

How Many Words?

I’m not one to put forth a lot of hard and fast rules in answer to this question. Read a dozen books about writing and you’ll get at least half a dozen answers. Stephen King aims for 2,000 words per day (apx. 10 pages). I’m happy with a minimum of 500 and delighted with 2,000. If you need a number, grab one and go with it. If you don’t, simply make sure to write until you are satisfied or until your daily schedule dictates your company is needed elsewhere.

The more you write the easier it should be to up the word count. That said, some folks are simply slower or faster at the work of writing. Don’t force it; just do it.

When?

The answer to this question is as unique as you are. My best writing is usually done between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. Unfortunately, this doesn’t fly very well in real adult life. I’m slowly working my way into afternoon writing. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those chipper morning folks who rise with the chickens and don’t need a pot of coffee to unclog the neural pathways. Find your best time, and if it is at all possible given the demands of your life, make that your regular time for writing.

Where?

My  writing desk is a wooden folding TV tray just big enough for my laptop and water bottle or mug. I sit on a Gaiam exercise ball chair. My “desk” sits right beside the bedroom radiator in a corner. An unused center table leaf serves as a shelf on which I keep essential books, printer paper, and other related items. It’s not ideal, but due to our current home space usage, it’s my space and it works. Find something that works for you–simple or elaborate, elegant or shabby chic–and claim it as your writing world.

Why?

Do you really have to ask that question? Because you have to? Because you enjoy pain and suffering? Because you love words? Because it brings you pleasure unlike anything else? Because you’re a little bit crazy? Because . . . (you fill in the blank)? Only you can answer that silly question, and if you really have to ask it, maybe you better try crocheting or golf instead.

Photo by runran used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

These are a few of my favorite things…

(Everybody sing now!)

ebooks and websites, some poems and a cool Nook.

music, In the Heights, and Yeats, Joyce, a good book.

Sondheim and Shakespeare, slow jazz and porch swings,

These are a few of my favorite things.

If the plot fails,

miss your deadline,

and you’re feeling blue

Just fire up your laptop and type ’til it’s fine

And then you will feel brand new!

With apologies to Oscar Hammerstein, of course! Seriously, as writers we need all the help and encouragement we can get. Sometimes this comes in the form of reading what other writers have to say about the craft. So here they are, my fab five short list of consistent favorites that withstand the test of time. Feel free to share your favorites, too!

All Around Favorite Writing Books–The Fab Five Short List

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

Ueland first published this book in 1938. She was way ahead of her time, and had a wonderful sense of humor. She believed, and I agree, that “everybody is talented, original, and has something important to say.” If you need a pep talk to help undo the damage of folks who’ve tried to rain on your word parade, this is the book for you.

bird by bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

O.K. I just like Anne Lamott. She has more guts, style, and quirky humor than ought to be legal in any one person. Beyond that, she speaks with an honest voice. and offers some true gems of advice and observation.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

If you read only book on writing this year and have not had the pleasure of reading King’s memoir, then by all means lay hands on a copy or download it to your e-reader or mobile device. However, whenever, and wherever you can–just get it and devour it. There’s a reason King is a successful writer (however one chooses to define that term); he can weave a fine story, clearly loves what he does, and is honest about the craft.  You’ll find the advice practical and unflinching, the prose lively and witty, and the overall effect satisfying and inspiring. Enough said. Read it or reread it and then read it again.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

Whenever I want a lyrical shot in the arm to remind me why I do what I do, I revisit Dillard’s slim, elegant reflection. I’ve read the book many times over the years and taught it in many advanced high school English classes; each time is a different experience because I bring my current context and experiences to the encounter. The common thread is that each reading is rewarding and makes me glad I am called to write.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

This classic volume is a must read for anyone who writes, be it for school, work, pleasure, or vocation. It will do more for your writing style than almost anything else I can think of besides relentless practice. My very favorite gem from this book is found on page 35 of the third edition and involves my hometown newspapers and the unintended result of a poor hyphen choice. Check it out, you’re sure to have a chuckle (and if you think I need a semicolon to separate the two previous clauses see pages 6-7).

Photo by Bright Meadow used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!