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Posts from the ‘Writing Life’ Category

How to stay creative in an age of distraction

I love owning my own home-based business. I sleep until I’m done (mostly) and schedule my day any way I want. Can I take a day off to go shopping in my favorite little artist-colony town? You bet. Can I spend the middle of my day visiting with a friend? No problem.

What I find most difficult, believe it or not, is scheduling time to write. In my business, I get e-mails and phone calls on a daily basis that I need to respond to. Often, when I’m writing, I may hear the phone ring or see an e-mail has landed, and I’ll be tempted to answer it because it will “just take a minute.” Or, I may think it’s better to answer it now then have to return the call or email later.

This is a pitfall that I’m learning to avoid. It’s my big danger zone. Another danger zone is the whole social media distraction. You know: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. One second spent to check Facebook and twenty minutes later…you know the drill.

In Adam Popescu’s post “How Neil Gaiman Stays Creative in an Age of Constant Distraction,” Gaiman reveals that he sometimes uses social media like Twitter for a short break from writing. Read more

Poetic inspiration for your writing

We’ve all faced the need to clean out our closets and finetune our possessions, whether we’re making a move, downsizing our living space, or just reorganizing.

We have to make hard decisions about what to keep and what to toss or give away. And sometimes the decisions aren’t hard. We wonder why we still have that stack of papers or miscellaneous junk that we never should have saved to begin with.

Exercise: Think about a time when you sorted through your stuff and had to decide what to get rid of and what to save. Think about how you felt. What were the emotions? What tugged at you and why? What was hard? What was easy? Now, write a poem, story, essay, or scene about it.

For inspiration and one poet’s take on getting rid of stuff, read the poem below from the American Life in Poetry project. Visit the American Life in Poetry website to sign up to receive a free weekly poem in your e-mail inbox.

American Life in Poetry: Column 497

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I’d guess everybody reading this has felt the guilt of getting rid of belongings that meant more to somebody else than they did to you. Here’s a poem by Jennifer Maier, who lives in Seattle. Don’t call her up. All her stuff is gone.

Rummage Sale

Forgive me, Aunt Phyllis, for rejecting the cut
glass dishes—the odd set you gathered piece
by piece from thirteen boxes of Lux laundry soap.

Pardon me, eggbeater, for preferring the whisk;
and you, small ship in a bottle, for the diminutive
size of your ocean. Please don’t tell my mother,

hideous lamp, that the light you provided
was never enough. Domestic deities, do not be angry
that my counters are not white with flour;

no one is sorrier than I, iron skillet, for the heavy
longing for lightness directing my mortal hand.
And my apologies, to you, above all,

forsaken dresses, that sway from a rod between
ladders behind me, clicking your plastic tongues
at the girl you once made beautiful,

and the woman, with a hard heart and
softening body, who stands in the driveway
making change.

————————

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Jennifer Maier from her most recent book of poems, Now, Now, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Jennifer Maier and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Fiction writing: A lie that tells the truth

“We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” –Pablo Picasso

 

In his Ted Talk, “Why a Good Book is a Secret Door,” children’s author Mac Barnett quotes Picasso and says he loves writing for children because they make the best audience. Children are so willing to enter other worlds.

He says good fiction will leave us with the feeling that the characters are real even though we know that they are not.

As a kid, he loved reading fantasy stories like the “Chronicles of Narnia,” and he was always looking in the real world for doorways to the fictional worlds he’d read about.

He talks about a writing technique called metafiction, which is a story about a story but he says instead of the audience breaking the fourth wall into the story, he prefers to have his books break the wall and enter reality. He wants his fiction to open up into the real world, to create a doorway into our world. Read more

How to stay passionate in your life and writing, Part one

Some days I feel as if I’m still twelve and other days a hundred and twelve. Some days I feel young because I have so many things I want to do in the time I have left. And other days, I feel old because I’ve already done so much—I survived my childhood, graduated college, raised a family, worked for somebody else, ran my own business, went back to graduate school, changed businesses, buried my parents, and lost two aunts, two uncles, and two cousins in the span of two years.

So when I heard that one of my favorite authors Isabel Allende was giving a Ted Talk on aging, I couldn’t wait to watch it. In “How to live passionately—no matter your age,” Allende begins by quoting poet Mary Oliver in one of her poems: “Tell me, what are you going to do with your own wild and precious life?” Allende says she wants to live passionately. How does she do this? By saying “yes” to life.

Staying young is often a matter of attitude, according to Allende. She says, “Our souls are ageless.”

After watching Allende’s Ted Talk, which you can view below, I was inspired to make a list of things I’m passionate about. I have many passions but some of my top ones are: spending time with my family, helping people with my business, writing, reading, being in nature, learning Spanish, and listening to music.

What are you passionate about? How do you live passionately? What are you doing with your one and only life?

For more on passion by Allende, see my previous post, “Igniting passion as an artist.”

In my next post, I’ll give tips for staying passionately connected to your writing.

 

 

 

Shake yourself out of a creative brain freeze by taking a walk

I have a love/hate relationship with my computer. I love it for the way it connects me with people and makes it easier to do research and write. I hate it for how fried I am after sitting in front of it for hours at a time. And as much as I can accomplish with a computer, I find that sitting in front of it isn’t the best place to find those epiphanies that can change everything.

Some of my best ideas come when I’m taking a shower, going for a swim, driving my car,  and going for a walk. As it turns out, scientists have proven that people generate more creative ideas when they walk than when they sit.

Santa Clara professor of psychology Marily Oppezzo was the lead author on a study that measured creativity among participants based on if they were walking or sitting. Oppezzo and professor Daniel L. Schwartz wrote an article based on the research: “Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking” that was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition in April of this year.

Research findings proved that walking leads to more free-flowing thoughts and more creativity. Read more

Step away from your desk and fuel your writing life

It’s easy as writers to hole up in our writing caves. We’re busy operating under the influence of words and we don’t want to be interrupted.

But sometimes you have to get out into the world. It’s how you pick up telling details that add more authenticity and authority to your work. And then there are the times when you’re stuck. Stepping out just may spark an idea or epiphany.

Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches: A Novel (All Souls Trilogy),wrote on her website about the act of trying to make conversation with a “living human” after a day of writing. She writes that if she could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, it would be this:

“Say yes.” The world is asking you to try new things, have fresh experiences, meet people, see foreign places, and learn things. Most of the time we say no. Say yes. Go for it. Try. Live. Dream. Refuse to be negative. Be generous with your own time and gifts. See what happens then.

Changing your routine routine can reveal unexpected insights. Read more

The writer as double—will the real writer please stand up?

Reading Margaret Atwood’s book Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, I’m contemplating the writer as double. We all have doubles, in a way, whether we’re writers or artists or scientists. We have our public persona and our private self or what I sometimes call my inside voice and my outside voice. (And, it’s that inside voice, when she gets loose, that often gets me into trouble).

Atwood says that this concept of the double started early in her life with superhero worship. Superwoman, Superman, Spiderman, etc. are all strong and kick-ass when in their saving-the-world-mode but their “real” personas are weak and fallible, i.e. Clark Kent.

Writers can be seen this way, too. We have our normal everyday self who walks the dog and washes the dishes, then we have our writing self who causes an innocent young paraplegic to die a horrible death at the hands of a time-shifting serial killer.

Atwood writes: “All writers are double, for the simple reason that you can never actually meet the author of the book you have just read. Too much time has elapsed between composition and publication, and the person who wrote the book is now a different person…”

She goes on to write, “When writers have spoken consciously of their own double natures, they’re likely to say that one half does the living, the other half the writing and…that each is parasitic upon the other.”

Throughout time, writers have written much about this double—probably most famous is the Jekyll/Hyde duo but writers have also written about their own writing doubles. Jorge Luis Borges did so in his work “Borges and I” where the first-person narrator of the person of Borges separates himself from the writer Borges.

Atwood asks, “Can an “author” exist, apart from the work and the name attached to it? The authorial part—the part that is out there in the world, the only part that may survive death—is not flesh and blood, not a real human being. And who is the writing “I”? A hand must hold the pen or hit the keys, but who is in control of that hand at the moment of writing? Which half of the equation, if either, may be said to be authentic?”

I believe both aspects of my double are authentic. My public persona—the one who runs a business—is fed by connecting with and helping others. My inner persona is fed by time spent alone putting words on the page (and all the attendant thoughts and ideas that fuel those words on the page). When these two aspects of myself get out of balance is when I fall into trouble.

And, really, it’s not like I’m two separate people–unless I’ve had one too many glasses of wine or a shot of Mama Juana I brought back from the Dominican Republic (shh…don’t tell). But parts of me rise up as needed or as the project demands. When I’m deeply involved in my writing, all my energy is directed onto the page. If someone were to interrupt me and ask a question, they likely might walk away wondering how a blathering dunderhead could write anything.

I think Atwood’s Alice Through the Looking Glass analogy sums up the double dilemma best:

“The act of writing takes place at the moment when Alice passes through the mirror. At this one instant, the glass barrier between the doubles dissolves, and Alice is neither here nor there, neither art nor life, neither the one thing nor the other, though at the same time she is all of these at once. At that moment time itself stops, and also stretches out, and both writer and reader have all the time not in the world.”

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