Tag Archives: creativity

procrastinating mind

Dear Procrastination, (Part 2)

Dear Procrastination,

I’ve written to you before, but you didn’t reply. You look at me the way my grandmother used to when I asked a stupid question. I get it, you are necessary, and if I spend too much time with you, well, that’s my fault, isn’t it?
You are necessary. You are where the sketch before the painting happens, the outline before the outline. I know I said I would write and now I’m walking the dogs, stringing a beaded necklace, knitting a hat, cleaning the gutters, alphabetizing my books, dusting the cobwebs from the corners. Can you believe these things are part of the process too? Not always, but sometimes, when I’m meditating on story.
I’m sorry I came off adversarial before. I was trying to gather my courage to write. I did not trust you. I lashed out. I get it. I get it, you are part of the process. Can I possibly welcome you? Even find joy in you? Trust myself to know when to close the door on you and get to work, when to open the door again and go out to play?
I will try, dear friend, I will try.

 

Buy my books here.

Please follow and like us:
RSS
Follow by Email
Facebook
Facebook
Google+
Google+
Twitter
Visit Us
Pinterest
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Instagram
Soundcloud
Tumblr

yoga frog

Don’t push it. That’s my advice this week. Happy writing!

Much better this week. Not perfect, but better. I wrote six of seven days. Slowly, but that’s my pace right now. I mostly got to bed by nine on the weekdays, save one or two restless nights. I hope do the same or better this week, but I’m not attached to that result. It doesn’t equal success or failure. Those are long-term, future-focused words that when you break down get pretty muddy in their true meaning. I gave this advice to another writer in my weekly critique group last Monday. I asked her what her goal was for her work and she said to finish it and get published.
Seems like the obvious goal, right?
In my experience, that goal will leave you hamstrung and miserable.
I choose joy.
Each day I sit down to write for all the time I have to offer the work. I am working on a first draft of a second novel in a trilogy of books that take place in Olympia and all feature a central character who is struggling to find his/her path. Around that main character is a cast of quirky characters who sometimes recur between books.
Of course, I want to finish them and publish them.
But I’ve learned not to think of that when I am drafting and revising. I try to take each chunk of writing time as it comes. I try not to set deadlines for when I should be done, because what I’ve found is that I will reach those deadlines. Even when I shouldn’t. Even when the work isn’t ready to be done, I will finish on time. And then after a couple of weeks away, of maybe sending the work out to the world, I’ll read it and see what I didn’t see before, face the truth. And sometimes my forcing the work to completion will have created more problems to fix than before.
I’m learning to trust the work to tell me when it’s done, to not push it with imposed deadlines. I am working on a first draft of a second book, trying to write every day, getting feedback on the first book in my critique group, and when I finish this first draft, I’ll set it aside and start in on draft two of the first book. Then I’ll write the first draft of the third book. I have no idea when any of this will be done.

Happy writing week to you, my friends. May your words flow freely and your heart be light.

 

Buy my books here.

Please follow and like us:
RSS
Follow by Email
Facebook
Facebook
Google+
Google+
Twitter
Visit Us
Pinterest
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Instagram
Soundcloud
Tumblr

Imagination

An invitation to let go and burn, baby, burn.

Getting to sleep earlier proved harder than I thought for a few reasons this week. I’ve got a lot crammed into my weekdays and last week was an especially bloated example of that. I went to two critique groups, one Monday, one Thursday, attended three yoga classes and coached Debate until four Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I tried to cook real meals when I could, which is especially important now that I’m vegan. There’s more, but you get the idea. Getting to sleep by nine was hard and the fact that I was so focused on it made it even harder. That is the way our minds play tricks on us. Oh, you need to get to bed early, do you? Let me throw some random fears your way and see how you do. Did you leave the oven on? Did you send that email? Does someone need you and you weren’t there?
But I tried every day. I shut down early, put a sleep mask on and committed to tossing and turning. And I will try again this week and the next until I’ve retrained my body and mind to be asleep by nine.
My second goal for the week was to get my word count in on weekends and weekdays. I did not even try to do that. Saturday I spent sleep-deprived judging Debate. Sunday I went to yoga and to a movie with Chris, and now here I am writing this blog, the first words I’ve penned all weekend. I blame this in part on the fact that I back-tracked in my writing week and so need to push myself forward again. I rewrote the outline for my novel and rewrote some beginning sections. It’s a first draft and I’m supposed to be writing forward. You know as well as I do though that these re-grouping moments are a crucial part of the writing process for any draft. I’ve got a new outline and am ready for another go at my goals this week. How about you?
My goals: 1. Write 500 words each day, including weekends. 2. In bed, eyes closed by nine on weekdays. 3. Do the Wednesday prompt (Red Dress Press) for fun and practice.
What are your goals?
The movie Chris and I went to see was La La Land. There’s this moment toward the end of the movie where the aspiring actress played by Emma Stone suffers a crisis of confidence familiar to anyone who has ever gone out on a creative limb. It hurts too much she says when she finally gets to the heart of why she wants to throw in the towel. She means the rejection and the not feeling good enough. It does hurt to put your best work out there and have it rejected or torn down in critique, even to attempt to create something and never have it come together as you envisioned it would. The movie is a boon to artists if you haven’t seen it. An invitation to follow your dreams, however difficult or impractical they might seem.
It’s the heart of winter and here in Olympia the coldest days of the year so far. We’ve had over a week of temps in the low to mid-twenties. We are all in need of an invitation to keep our fires burning, our imaginations moving. I hope this post might be one for you. Set some goals for the week and do your best to get there. That is all. Let go of attachment to a particular result. Simply show up and do the work.

 

Buy my books here.

Please follow and like us:
RSS
Follow by Email
Facebook
Facebook
Google+
Google+
Twitter
Visit Us
Pinterest
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Instagram
Soundcloud
Tumblr

One day spent chaperoning debate nerds. Two insights about writing fiction.

I say nerds admiringly. After all, I was one of them back in highschool when I regularly skipped other classes to work on my debate cases. Am one of them, really. I no longer geek out on arguing the ethics or efficacy of various philosophical schools, all of which I was  learning solely to build my rhetorical arsenal. All of which were making me more befuddled as to what I really thought and believed. Now, for me, it’s books and the things that make up books. Precious sentences!

For the two judges sitting across from me in the judge’s lounge that day it was crossword puzzles. To be precise, four of them. Another judge they knew, a tall bespectacled man carrying a fresh copy of the New Yorker, noticed they were currently working on the LA Times and proceeded to rib them. How could ladies of their caliber deign to do any crossword puzzle than NY? They laughed. They had that one too, tucked under the LA Times. This was the seed of my first insight of the day into writing fiction. It has to do with character, specifically archetypes and models. As I was sitting there drinking the coffee but trying to avoid the white sugar parading as mini bagels by munching out of my baggie of trail mix, it occurred to me how far one can get in developing a character’s identity by first figuring out what social sub group they belong to. You can sketch a lot about what they wear, what they do in their free time, what topics of conversation they lean toward, what books they might read, even what they value. The danger of course is to stop there. And since I had ten hours of basically just sitting around watching people that day, I did a lot of sneaky staring and character sketching. I eavesdropped on stories and began to see the individuals emerge in this group that at first seemed strikingly aligned. What emerged for me from this exercise was that it’s useful to begin sketching a character by identifying a model. The danger is to stop there. Perhaps a more pervasive danger exists in fearing models that are out of our own social comfort zone We must push past the judgement that emerges when values clash to create human characters who inhabit ways of being that are difficult for us to empathize with. Because, in the end, characters should be individuals, not models.

At one point I grew bored even of people watching and decided to go for a walk around the University of Puget Sound’s campus. I had no idea where I was going, no destination. That became part of the fun. As I walked, I began to build stories in my head, urged on by what I was seeing with my eyes. A persistent yellow rose, a bit weary, but persevering winter. An old style chalkboard on wheels, some unknown equations written across it. A fountain with the head of a fish next to the head of a lion, the leo and the pisces locked in natural conflict. A rooftop fire escape. I even hopped onto an elevator at one point and pushed the button for the floor I thought was the one I started on. The doors closed, but the elevator didn’t move. I almost panicked, then browsed the buttons again, selected my second choice. The elevator lurched, moved. The doors opened right where I began. What had been on the floor it wouldn’t let me out on? My imagination scrolled through story possibilities for what was on floor M. And here’s where the second insight into writing came to me. Be present as you adventure into the world. Collecting images of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Taking photos and writing descriptions in our journals or recording our own voices describing these things on our mobile phones. This builds the muscles of our imagination.

 

Here’s a prompt and a challenge for you. Take one of the images below and turn it into a poem or a short work of prose. If you’re willing, share it.

 

I’m wishing you all another week of flowing words. As for me, I’m just past the half point in the first draft of a novel I’m writing called It May Look Like Disaster, the first in a series of three Olympia novels. I’m waking up at 4 AM on weekdays to write and trying to edit stories and type in handwritten pages in the evenings. I submitted stories to three journals last week and my goal is to submit every week of 2016.
Blessings to you. Make time.

 

 

 

elevator gargoyle fountain yellow rose         escape spider web

 

Buy my books here.

Please follow and like us:
RSS
Follow by Email
Facebook
Facebook
Google+
Google+
Twitter
Visit Us
Pinterest
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Instagram
Soundcloud
Tumblr

Skipping class

I’m not sure how it started, exactly. One day I must have been walking to school and instead of turning left toward the tall gray concrete building, climbing the stairs to sit in Mr. Lokken’s Algebra II class, I turned right toward the public library.

I spent the first few hours browsing. First flipping through cards filed alphabetically, kept in long pull-out drawers that sighed when you opened, then closed them. Next, walking up and down the aisles, pulling books off to browse because the title or a familiar author or the color of the spine.

I must have checked out five or six books that day, one was Rukeyser’s selected poems, which I carried around in my backpack way past the due date. Returning books to the library on time is not a skill I ever mastered. Messenger bag heavy with books, I walked out into the cold, quiet, empty streets of downtown Aberdeen to the new, hopefully to stay this time, cafe. I ordered a bagel with sun-dried tomato cream cheese and a cappuccino, found a table with a windowed view. I wrote through the afternoon with my new roller-ball blue pen–poems, snippets of stories, quotes from the books I browsed through. I jotted down pieces of conversation overheard at other tables.

“You wont’ believe what she said, Grace.”

“Well, you tell her she can go to hell for all I care.”

Not unusual for any day in Aberdeen, rain drummed the sidewalk. The tables were all different, but all varnished wood. Probably picked up at the consignment shop down the road, the one whose storefront took up an entire block. On my table a small faceted glass vase held a bouquet of fake pansies. I used most of the surface of the table to stack all the books from by bag, lay down my open notebook, set out some pens, a pencil, a highlighter, plus a corner for my coffee and my empty bagel plate.

An hour after I would have been getting out of school for the day, I stepped out onto the sidewalk, green umbrella popped open. I walked the entire eight miles home.

When my mom asked, “How was your day today?” I said, “It was okay”, then took a bite of the peanut butter honey sandwich I’d just made and went upstairs.

I believe that this is how it started, with this day. A whim. A trip to the library. An afternoon at the coffee shop. A long walk home. After that, I couldn’t stop skipping class. I skipped school  so that I could haunt downtown Aberdeen: the library, the coffee shop, one of three thrift stores. No stranger seemed to notice or care and my mom didn’t figure it out for months.

I suppose there were lots of reasons I started skipping class. A better day for an introvert. A day spent pursuing my own curiosity, reading the books I wanted to read. The compulsion to find some solitude to write. That compulsion that continues even to this day. At least once per week, sometimes more, I find myself walking to work so tempted to turn left toward downtown.

 

Buy my books here.

Please follow and like us:
RSS
Follow by Email
Facebook
Facebook
Google+
Google+
Twitter
Visit Us
Pinterest
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Instagram
Soundcloud
Tumblr

Washing the dishes

Just like the themes we are threading in our stories, these topics about the creative life resurface again and again. I’ve written many times before about focus, about staying in the room until the work is done, about committing to a particular project and seeing it through. But this is easier said than done and our talent of complicating the work is insidious.

My current process for writing is to sit down and first write the date at the top of a page in my writing log, then list out my writing goals for the day in the order I’d like to achieve them. I’ve been doing this since April. I use this writing log to journal about the work, especially if I’m stuck on something, and also to track word count for the day and to sketch out scenes for the story/chapter I’m working on. This new habit of keeping a writing log has benefited me in so many ways, a couple of them unexpected. First, because I keep a log each day, it’s easier the next day to jump in where I left off because I’ve left some clues about what I was working on/struggling with. Second, and the topic that is the focus of this blog entry, is that as time has passed, as I’ve become more regular in my writing routine, my ambition and impatience have reared up: My list of goals get longer and longer.

What occurs to me as I look at my expanding list of creative must-dos is that I am headed toward a writing practice that is joyless, each act one stone that must be turned over to get to the end of the day. I’m at risk of becoming a suffering artist. Friends, when I get there, it’s time to abandon the work. The writers I admire most are the writers who when you read them you can tell they enjoy the work of stringing sentences, that it brings them joy. This is why I’m spending my time here.  So I am recalling this morning how Thich Nhat Hanh describes washing dishes:

 

“To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them.Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity,for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and that fact that I am here washing them are miracles!”–Thich Nhat Hanh
If you are feeling that the writing is work lately, perhaps it’s because you aren’t writing at all. You are moving through the act of writing, but your thoughts have skipped ahead or are looking behind. When this happens, what are your tools for bringing yourself back to the work? I tend to follow my breath, dive into a scene. Blog about it, so I can really know what I think. Another trick I use is setting my meditation timer for writing goals. Until now, I did this with a chuckle, because I was using something meant for one practice, for a completely different kind of practice.

Is it all that different, though? When you are really in the flow of the work?

 

Buy my books here.

Please follow and like us:
RSS
Follow by Email
Facebook
Facebook
Google+
Google+
Twitter
Visit Us
Pinterest
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Instagram
Soundcloud
Tumblr

nostalgia

Nostalgia is a funny thing.

Summer is ripe for nostalgia. As children, upon the arrival of summer, we become suddenly free to choose. Choose our own books (in my case by the armload taken from the library along with a summer reading program log), choose our own camps or classes from a range of options, mostly extracurricular, therefore feeding a mode of personal expression. Certainly there is an economic divide in terms of this option, but even kids who grow up drinking powdered milk as I did have options to ride horses, make art, and go to camp. We have more time and more freedom, more opportunities to create memories to be nostalgic about.

And nostalgia is a funny thing, if you think about it. Defined as a sentimental longing or affection for the past, we feel many types of nostalgia, but tend to tie that nostalgia to a particular thing and that fascinates me. What I really feel nostalgic about cannot be touched. I long for a time when I enjoyed greater leisure, when my child depended greatly on me and every day I watched him reach a milestone of some sort in his journey to become independent of me. I long for a time when I took time to hang out with my closest female friends, when that that was my top social priority, and we shared everything. I feel nostalgic for my need to rebel against authority (before I became the authority to rebel against).

But how does this nostalgia manifest itself? Certain moments caught in a single photographic image. Candy cigarettes. The onesie he came home from the hospital in. The smell of baby oil used for tanning. Those colored tassels for bike handles. Library check out cards, the date due stamped in blue ink. These are the carriers of nostalgia. A sight, or sound, or taste, or touch, or smell can transport us to the past at any time. So much of who we are is made up of a life time of sensory experience, and thatGloria went on a hike with us. We are still driving back and won’t be to town until around 10. She’d still like to come see you and wants to know if that will be too late. experience is deeply connected to our thought and emotion. The fact that certain things tend to be prevalent in certain times tie us to our age. Walkman. Need I say more?

As writers we must pay attention to nostalgia in our selection of detail. I find this to be true in at least two ways when editing. Nostalgia can lead to cliché because you choose the detail that emerges strongest, not the one that most accurately fits the moment of the particular fiction you are building. Also, if we’re writing a story that takes place in a time you lived through, you might be tempted to embed objects of your own nostalgia even though they are not the objects that best create the character you are writing about. In essence, nostalgia can lead us to be always writing ourselves into stories. Now I’m not saying objects of your own nostalgia have no place in your fiction. t I am saying that you must pay attention to each particular detail you choose and be sure it serves your story, not merely your own longings.

 

Buy my books here.

Please follow and like us:
RSS
Follow by Email
Facebook
Facebook
Google+
Google+
Twitter
Visit Us
Pinterest
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Instagram
Soundcloud
Tumblr

goldfish

A defense of prompts, an opportunity, and a goldfish

The other day I may have bought a few books at the Half-Priced Books 50% off sale. While the checker was scanning each book (took a while), one book (John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction) sparked a conversation about writing. Would this be a good book for creative writers?, the college-faced checker wanted to know, blowing his blond bangs off his face from one side of his mouth. Chris, who was standing eagerly behind me, said oh, yes, the prompts are fantastic. Hmmm. The checker, replied. I never write to prompts.

At that point we gathered our books and left, never knowing the real story of the HPB checker, who clearly had some aspirations to write creatively. But the moment made me think about prompts and why and what we use them for, how I feel about them. Look at the writing section of any bookstore and you will see oodles of books full of nothing but prompts. I’ve owned a number of these books. One that influenced me greatly as a young writer was Writing Down The Bones, a narrative with prompts meant to help you write fluidly and freely without fear.

Between the ages of 17 to say 25ish, I was part of several writing groups, some more successful than others, one or two at least that never grew beyond me sitting alone in a coffee shop writing to prompts, sure that next week some other writer eager to connect with other writers would join me. During this time, I wrote often to prompts. Sometimes those prompts became stories.

Now, I’ve written four novel-length stories and more stories than I can count. I’ve also learned the art of editing, the most important part of the writing process. Yet I still think it is important to write to prompts. To write without regard for what will come of what you’re writing. As writers we should have notebooks full of writing that is just for us, just for practice. That practice is how we become better writers. Use prompts to warm up. Use prompts to get unstuck. Use prompts to spend some time simply playing with words without the pressure of how those words hold up in service of the work you are doing for real, the art you are hoping to send out to the world.

So, today I give you a prompt. Write something with the word goldfish in it. If you send me what you wrote and your mailing address, I will send you a thank you for playing with me. In case you can’t find it anywhere else on this page, my email is eatyourwords,lizshine@gmail.com.

goldfish

Photo courtesy of fishtankbank.com

Now, having written for twenty minutes, including a line of dialogue in which a girl asks her parents “Well, can we at least get a goldfish?”, I am getting to my work of the day, picking up the novel I’m working on to see if I can find my way to the resolution of Chapter 3.

 

Buy my books here.

Please follow and like us:
RSS
Follow by Email
Facebook
Facebook
Google+
Google+
Twitter
Visit Us
Pinterest
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Instagram
Soundcloud
Tumblr

comfort zone

Get out of your comfort zone

This is easier said than done, yet this is the message I’m hearing loud and clear. A message without pretense or subtlety. Let me explain what I mean, and also how it applies to my writing life–and, perhaps, applies to you and the work you’re doing too.
I am a cautious person for good reason. There has been little security or stability in my life. Until now. In response to a tumultuous life, I have nurtured certain aspects of my character: strength, independence, and shrewdness among them. I am not comfortable in vulnerability, dependence, or non-judgment. Like everyone else I have zones of comfort I prefer to stay in. This is the nature of survival. Yet, as an educator, I understand that after basic needs are accounted for, we each have exponential potential for growth and the way to expand our potential as human beings is to get uncomfortable. This is how we get better at math and it’s also how we develop compassion.

So, back to this message I’ve been receiving. In these past couple of years I’ve gotten away from a regular yoga practice, and lately I’ve been trying to get back to the mat. I am not as strong, not as balanced, not as flexible, not as focused. Classes for me have never been a necessity, just an occasional treat. I began practicing yoga at fifteen and had no idea classes even existed. I’m sure in 1989 I wouldn’t have found one in Aberdeen or Hoquiam anyway. But I had books, and books are definitely my comfort zone. I’ve practiced yoga over the years with dozens of books propped open next to my mat. However, that wasn’t working for me this time. I’d lost the passion and curiosity, needed to be led back into practice. So I signed up for two yoga series, one with my husband, one on my own.

The series I’m taking on my own turns out to be way out of my comfort zone. It’s all women and what I call woo-woo. There’s hugging, chanting, and all sorts of verbal sharing, plus tea and conversation for an undefined length of time after class. I am introverted and struggle when called to make small talk. From the first class I knew this group would not be without awkward moments for me ( though I do like the class and the people in it), but being out of my comfort zone is precisely what is calling to me right now. I just figured this out, on a walk after my second class. And just as this insight came to me, my phone buzzed. Regarding a different matter, my Dad had texted me “thanks for stepping out of your comfort zone”.

Here’s where I come to the part about writing. As I walked on, my mind went to Suz, the central character in a collection of short stories I’m writing about food and body image, and how both are connected to love and happiness. As I walked, I imagined Suz in my new yoga class and understood whether that exactly needed to happen, it definitely needed to happen. Meaning I need to get Suz out of her comfort zone. You see what I’m getting at here? Good fiction demands we put our characters in uncomfortable situations. As writers, we’ll be better at that if we’re willing to do the same.

 

Buy my books here.

Please follow and like us:
RSS
Follow by Email
Facebook
Facebook
Google+
Google+
Twitter
Visit Us
Pinterest
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Instagram
Soundcloud
Tumblr

A celebration of the pause.

149773_499110317246_6071155_n

I can be an intensely goal-oriented person, and mostly this has served me well. I wrote a semi-autobiographical novella in part about resiliency, or at least that was the seed. You see, directly and indirectly I have heard all my life that for me, success was unlikely, that my success is a particular miracle, unexpected. So I wanted to explore how it is that I don’t feel particularly resilient at all. I wanted to put a character in a situation somewhat like mine and see just how she might come to save herself. It’s true I was a welfare kid, a victim of childhood abuse, an intensely shy child who suffered severe allergies for all of my pre-adult life. It’s also true that genetically I am predisposed to self-destruct through addictive behavior and that I have suffered anxiety as long as I can remember.
My ability to set goals and work toward them has enabled me to manage anxiety without medication, to go from being unable to run at 24 years old to running my first marathon at 30, and to be a now National Boards Certified Teacher, 15 years of teaching experience behind me. I am a compulsive list maker and goal-setter. I can read through old journals and see that this pattern established itself early. But I’m not writing this blog as a celebration of goal-setting. I’m writing in celebration of the absence of moving toward a goal, a celebration of the pause, something I’ve come to appreciate these past few weeks.
Certainly my lists and goals serve my writing. It is this tendency that has inspired me to wake up at 4 and 5 in the morning to write first each day, that allows me to add practices to my work that keep me moving forward, like keeping a writing journal on my desk and writing down short and long term goals. But what I’ve discovered in this early morning writing time is that in the writing itself, I am best served when I can let go of all goals and give myself up to the writing itself. When I try to write fast, when I try to finish a work before it is ready to be done, when I rush editing, I ruin the work. I’ve done this over and over again.
Fortunately, I am a fan of Whitman’s insight about contradictions and I too believe I contain multitudes, thus am capable of writing slow, pausing to take walks or just stare out the window in spite of the anxious, goal-oriented me. Practices that strengthen my ability to pause include the writing itself, yoga and meditation, and time spent in nature. As I write this, I am thinking of this work we do as writers as a kind of dance where we are called to move through many aspects of ourselves to do our best work.

 

Buy my books here.

Please follow and like us:
RSS
Follow by Email
Facebook
Facebook
Google+
Google+
Twitter
Visit Us
Pinterest
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Instagram
Soundcloud
Tumblr