“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Chris and I read Big Magic this summer. If you are loosing heart, not making time for your creative work, read it–read it now. We actually carried a hardback copy of the book into Enchanted Valley and back, read the entire thing out loud. As we walked the last 2.5 miles of road to our car, we finished the last pages of the book and perhaps because our bodies were aching, torn, and exhausted, but also because of how the book spoke to us both, there were a few tears shed before closing the paint-splashed cover and driving home.
It’s Saturday morning, the first weekend after the first week of school and I’m at Mudbay Coffee in Olympia writing. My best writer friend Carrie is writing across from me and Chris is in the corner working on a short story. This, for me, is so much bliss. I’m finishing up the first draft of a novel I’ve been working on for a year and a half and starting to think about draft one of book number two in the trilogy. In the past year, I self-published two beautiful books through Red Dress Press, a self-publishing service co-founded by me, Chris, and my baby sister, Em.
I have a routine and I’m making time. That’s how I’m getting there. It’s not easy getting up at 4 in the morning to write, but this feeling of accomplishment, having made two books I’m proud of, putting the finishing touches on a draft of a story I love writing, makes it more than worthwhile.
It’s the infamous hump day in my writing week and I felt it on my morning run. I had to shuffle my way up every hill one tiny step at a time. Toward the end of the run I did get an idea for a short story I’ve been mulling over that I look forward to drafting soon. So, I suppose though I was power-walking toward the end of the run, in one sense I finished strong.
I’m about to settle into writing for the day now. I’ve got a fresh cup of coffee and a bowl of apricots to guide my way. A pair of noise cancelling headphones arrived in the mail this week and they are amazing. Most of the time, I don’t even put any music on, I just wear the headphones to muffle distractions. When I finish this blog, I’ll jot down my goals for the day and get to work. Who knows what the day will hold for me, but I showed up.
How about you? How are you showing up for your creative work today?
I’ve been thinking about the importance of patience this morning, how it is so necessary, but also something that has to be learned. Why, you ask, was I thinking about this? I spent the morning going through a first draft of a novel, charting all the changes to make before I begin draft two. I charted scenes that are currently in the novel in one column, scenes that I want to be in draft two in a second column. I charted POV, motifs, and details. I feel great about this slow process of revision, but it is something that has taken me twenty years to come to.
Maybe you, like me, came to writing in the first place because you loved the creative immersion, the flow, the story–and I won’t lie–the idea of being a writer? But that only gets you so far. Patience and discipline carry you the rest of the way. Suzannah Windsor Freeman wrote about this idea on Jeff Goins blog. Her post is worth a read. Maybe it will resonate with you the way it did with me?
This week, I finished up another draft of a manuscript that is in nearing the publishing phase of the editing process, then finished a read-through of a first draft of a novel I’ll spend the summer revising. A pretty productive week! I had this moment after reading that first draft where I let loose an enormous, heavy sigh. That sigh was me letting go of all the delusions of grandeur I’d let mount over the months I’d spent writing. In fact, in spite of my highest of hopes, it was a true first draft, lacking so much of what I’d intended to be there, including some things I had intended, but that now seem like a pretty bad idea. I’m okay, though, I have a plan.
First, I’ll go through the book again, charting some notes on key scenes, details, conflicts, and motifs chapter by chapter. Then, I’ll write more before diving in and making changes to that first draft. I’ll write new scenes first before going in to delete and change what I already have. Then, I’ll begin weaving it all together into a second draft, hopefully, better than the first. This is how we do it. It’s not magic. It’s first inspiration, then persistence, discipline, and planning.
Tomorrow; however, is Friday, and with all this editing in my life right now, I’m aching for that first draft feeling where it’s all vision and flowing words, and damn, you’re good! So I’ve declared that as for my writing process, my Fridays are going to be something akin to casual Fridays and I will write new words, first drafts.
I started this blog as a way to keep myself writing. It was the same kind of desperate attempt to build good habits that causes people to talk their significants into doing dietary cleanses with them. I needed an audience, some accountability outside my insecure self. It wasn’t enough to just remind myself why I was writing, how I was writing, that I deserved to make time for writing. I needed to shout it out loud.
That’s still true, but over time it has become a creative work of its own. A voice has emerged, a voice I didn’t know I had. A voice strong, confident in the fact that she has something to say that’s worthy of being heard.
I’m in Ocean Shores on a writing retreat now. This is a place I know well. I’ve spent many hours with my cousins on the beach, the adults who brought us sheltered from the wind in the car we’d driven right onto the beach. Yesterday, I drove into town on my own to pick up a few things from the store, get gas, shop for some souvenirs. I went in to pay for the gas, began pumping, sat in the driver’s seat to wait for the tank to fill. That’s when it happened. My self dissipated. What was I doing here? Who was I kidding? What kind of fraud had I perpetrated, masquerading as a writer for over twenty years?
I’m mostly immune to these kinds of identity crises, though as a young writer they plagued me. You see, I’ve built good habits in getting up in the morning to write, keeping this blog, annotating every book I read. I love the work and I’m not so worried about who approves anymore. In the face of this unforeseen confidence crash, I parked my car at the IGA and went for a walk through town, breathing deep and consciously, feeling the straps of my backpack, each stride. I shook it off, remembered I don’t care about that shit anymore. I simply make time and do the work. Beginning my summer vacation with a writing intensive that includes my summer writing schedule (up at 5AM for a run, shower, then pour a cup of coffee and get to work) is likely the cause of the crisis (when you retreat for a week to write the pressure to get work done is great) and now that I’ve recovered, I’m glad I had that moment. Because when I had returned to my body and was breathing freely again, I felt immense gratitude, commitment to do the work, to stay in the room, focused on the goal or two I’ve set for the day.
I’ve been intending to write a reflection on the scene-a-day experience for days now, but this has been a difficult few weeks to make time to write even these few extra words beyond my morning writing sessions. One morning, last week, I sat staring at my computer screen sipping coffee and watching the clock move from 4:15 to 5:03 without writing a single word. My brain just couldn’t get whirring beyond the simplest thought, “Ah, coffee.” *sips “Ah, more coffee.” *sips again. It’s sort of surprising to me that I’m finding it difficult to make creative time especially since it’s been a month now since I decided to ditch my evening unwind with wine routine for a cleaner, clearer mind. And yet, it’s not all that surprising, I suppose, since it’s the end of the school year, a time when teachers get more than a little crazy worrying about how to get all the things done by the end of the year, planning their perfect summers in which somehow they are going to rewrite all their courses, take a vacation, read all the books, and make time for whatever art or hobbies you love. While I’m not complaining about having a summer vacation, there is stress that comes along with this annual routine annihilation.
But, I digress. Back to the scene-a-day. For those of you who haven’t been here, scroll back and look at my posts from May and you’ll get the drift. For the first 30 days of May, I posted a prompt for a scene a day, which I also attempted to write. I didn’t write every day, though I sincerely tried and I also brought my seniors in on the writing and they wrote some amazing scenes that they are now presenting and I am so, so proud of them. I didn’t write a single scene I felt particularly proud of, not one. Some were okay, but nothing really great. I did write approximately 5,000 words about a character I’ve been thinking about for a decade and who is the protagonist of a novel that is in the incubating stage right now. I did get to know that character a whole lot better and came to re-appreciate how writing throw away pages to get to know a character better, to warm up, is not a waste of time. Like doing burpees, it may be ugly, but you are becoming stronger.
Final prompt! Tomorrow we take a look back and see what we see. 🙂
Write a scene that involves a theft.
Challenge: Create an unreliable narrator.
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My book group picked Citizen for the month of May. One unusually sunny April weekend day, I was bopping around Powell’s dreaming of leisurely summer reads when I came across Don’t Let Me Be Lonely (published in 2004) in the new books, used prices section. I noticed the subtitle is also “An American Lyric” and I thought, hmmm, I should read this one too and I should read it first. So, I did, and now I have less than a week to read the book we are actually discussing. This doesn’t worry me since I read Don’t Let Me Be Lonely in three days. I didn’t read it straight through, though. I would read a section, then close the book to catch my breathe before opening the book again to read more. The book is a co-mingling of words, images, and footnotes. I read them all together the first time through, then flipped back and looked at each separately. I got something different each time. The book begins like a simple diary, a recording of life events and that forms the backbone of the book, which dips into image, poem, spoken word, then back to diary. Rankine meditates on television violence, pharmaceuticals, depression, death, and history to show the consequences of fear: dark, pervasive loneliness. It is in the last pages where the book becomes most clearly metapoetic: “Sometimes you read something and a thought that was floating around in your veins reorganizes itself into the sentence that reflects it.” And this is the digression that saves you from being overcome by the dark truths in the book. Rankine writes, “In order from something to be handed over a hand must extend and a hand must receive. We must both be here in this world in this life in this place indicating the presence of.” Rankine suggests the possibility of art as perhaps not an antidote, but at least a respite to the pervasive loneliness that arises from the inevitability or death, especially in our modern world.
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I’m headed out into the woods this weekend, so I’m posting three prompts in advance! I will post the last prompt Monday morning, at which time we can commence with bragging about our beauteous scenes, our impressive word counts, and our writing calluses. Let’s do this. *offers hand for a rallying cheer
- Write a scene that takes place on an airplane.
Challenge: Include a rant.
- Write a scene where the character can’t sleep- revisits old memory.
Challenge: Have a memory moment include a middle school dance.
- Write a scene where the weather plays a prominent role.
Challenge: Focus on color.
Write a scene where the main character and a secondary character have an exercising moment
Challenge: Have them be observed by someone meaningful or important to the story.