When you read this header, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I haven’t posted for quite awhile. But my intent is not to complain about the lack of writing time in my life. Instead, I want to talk about what we can do not to get hyper-crazed when we move through times when writing has to be temporarily tossed aside. I think if we use these busy times to pay attention to the world and pay attention to our own sensory experiences, we’ll come back to writing with a deep sense of appreciation for the details of our world and excitement that we can use these specific details in new projects. So, instead of getting all freaky about the papers or reports we might need to review, family members who seek attention or all the minutiae (I love that word) of our daily lives, we can try the following –
Meditate – it will calm your soul. Trust me. It really will.
Take a look at the art all around. I’ve noticed that some wrought iron stairways
contain amazing designs, ceiling lights can turn me on, and graffiti can teach me something. But I’m also thrilled by some of the subtle details in photos and advertising – like fog or smoke or backgrounds. And, I’m trying to take the time to study stained glass windows, the lines of people’s faces and the colors and textures of what everyone is wearing and carrying. Okay, so maybe I’m becoming a bit obsessive about this one. But the world really is an amazing work of art!
Take a moment to smell the world. I figured this one out many years ago when I quit smoking. My sense of smell came screaming back about two weeks into it. When I hit mad-crave moments, I discovered that a quick drive past restaurants eased the craving and left me as satisfied as if I’d eaten the best meal in the world. My two favorite drivebys became McDonalds and Jakes Restaurant - they both shared the lovely smells of beef and onion rings.
Pay attention to the small things — the way warm water runs over your hands, the sound of the washer and dryer in the background, the feel of the air when it’s warm or cold.
And then, if you have a minute or two, create a quick poem about the small things. I hope you’ll be back to writing time in no time. And you’ll be fresher for the break.
Recently I spoke to a group of writers about coming back to writing. Even the title of that discussion invokes a sense of grace and calm, I think. That place in our hearts where we know we must finally sit down and make the space for our writing seems sacred and precious. But it’s not a place where I go as frequently as I know I should.
I think that’s why I focused my talk on how to get from here — this crazy, busy, loud and frenetic world we live in — to there — the place where our minds go quiet and slow, that place where we can reach what’s really in our hearts and thoughts.
1) So the first step in coming back to writing is to Calm Down. Think about what you want – to write, to figure out your world. Do you hope to say something or to ask something?
2) Next – Believe.
Believe you have the ability to do this and that you can make the time. Believe that the discovery of what ends up on the page is worth the time.
3) Practice. This is the time you begin to put words on a page without fear of criticism or judgment. I often refer back to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way or Finding Water to help me get started. Or I use simple story starters. For my classes, I often begin with a simple memory — Saturday morning and I am nine years old. Or I’ll ask them to write, “I will never forgive………” or “I forgave….”
4) Begin. Put pen or pencil to paper. We writers all need that tactile moment when the scratch of our writing tools against paper draws us into the act of writing. So don’t rely upon a keyboard at this stage. Rely upon the physicality of the action and let yourself become completely immersed in the writing.
5) Begin again. If you really wish to come back to writing, you need to make it a habit, something that moves you forward day, after day, even if you’re only giving yourself 15 minutes or three morning pages.
First time novelist Anne Bustard tells of finishing her novel in an MFA writing program and receiving a note from her advisor. It said, “You need to begin again.” So she did. Again, and again, and again. “Then it happened. It happened on my 10,000th try. That manuscript and I connected with my dream agent and dream editor. And I cried oceans of happy tears. Some days I still do. Anywhere But Paradise will be published in April 2015.”
If you’re struggling with beginning again and again, take a class or join a writer’s group. Commit to writing as the very worthwhile creative thing that you do. Creativity is a gift we receive and simply must grow in order to return that gift to God, or our higher power, or the universe. If drawing and painting is our creative talent, or if writing is our creative talent, it’s the thing we can do to explore and examine the world and hopefully to leave the world a better place than we found it.
I’ve been sort of out of touch, haven’t I? Sorry about that but I’ve been working on the first ever Publishing Institute at Mount Mary University and it’s almost here. We have 135 participants coming to Mount Mary to meet and greet and talk all things publishing. This is a great opportunity for writing program graduates, members of Red Oak and Red Bird and other local writing centers to learn how to take the next step in writing. There are panels on writing queries and on packaging that stellar submission. We’re also hosting Harvard University’s Direct of Creative Writing, Bret Anthony Johnston who will be talking about his new novel, Remember Me Like This.
I have big hopes for this institute — like, I think it would be really cool if a few of my past students landed an agent and then a publishing deal and then we’ll have you come back to a future publishing institute and be the keynote……
So stay tuned!