Monthly Archives: July 2012

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How do I wrap up what I know about the care and feeding of the writer within? By reminding that each writer is unique, a special bundle of drama and memory and insecurity, and each writer must figure him or herself out to create long work or continual work. That understanding your inner writer is as important as writing because when you block or stall, often it has to do with the conditions under which the inner is laboring or the fear the inner is experiencing.

To steal a factoid from a wonderful talk by Elizabeth Gilbert about inspiration on TED:  perhaps the muse is an outside thing, a gift given whether we deserve it or not, and therefore it isn’t our fault that the creative process is so capricious. And, as Ken Atchity says, the muse  can visit while we’re in a project; in other words, that we don’t have to wait for inspiration to show up and set us afire. We can take the steps and have her surprise us along the way. Discipline helps the writer, orients him or her, but too much discipline, and at the wrong time, breaks the spirit.

There is a wonderful book, Writing the Natural Way, that uses clustering, a seemingly random gathering of right brain memory, to begin writing. I think clustering is a great fallback in the middle of a hard project or as a beginning to one. I think clustering can help unblock. You may find out more about you than the plot, but that is likely what you need to know anyway.

And finally, I end my little series on the care and feeding of your writer with lines from a poem, Family Reunion. The lines I’ve chosen describe the fragility of creativity within me, the care it needs, its innocence, and most of all, its knowing.

….most are cut off from their own/histories, each of which waits/like a child left at day care.

What if you turned back for a moment/and put your arms around yours?/Yes, you might be late for work;/no, your history doesn’t smell sweet/like a toddler’s head. But look

at those small round wrists/ that short-legged, comical walk./Caress your history–who else will?/Promise to come back later.

Pay attention when it asks you/simple questions:  Where are we going?/Is it scary? What happened? Can/I have more now? Who is that?

How are you caring for your writer?

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How does discipline play in the care and feeding of your writer? It has a bigger role than you imagine: not enough and you feel terrible; too much and you burn out. Ken Atchity writes in his A Writer’s Time that you should work on your project whether or not you feel the muse. She’ll show up eventually, he says, and it might as well be for something that matters.

My own experience is that I have to show good faith on a long project (for me, a novel), but that the not knowing where I’m going and the deadend writing that is the process of that wears and tears emotionally, and I have to step back sometimes, give myself a break away. This is when I head for morning pages or when I try to write a haiku every day, something that keeps me engaged with the act of writing but isn’t the process that is currently busting me.

I also have to find a balance of discipline, which means when I’m in a hard stage of a big writing process not writing so long and so hard that I exhaust myself, another of Atchity’s tips for the long haul on a project.

This is also where you use the tricks of stopping in the middle of a scene or knowing exactly the first sentence you will write the next day. (The mind rewrites it, but you mustn’t until time to sit down and do it.) And when in a hard project, you work until the point before exhaustion or depression. That way, you keep faith with the project, and yet you protect that part of yourself that is terrified you won’t be able to do whatever it is you’re aiming for.

Bonni Goldberg in her Room to Write has a great writing prompt: give your muse a look and give it a voice, too. Picture it, and then write what it says to you. I do this exercise every year in my writing class, and every year, the muse is so kind to the writers, so much kinder than the writers are to themselves.

Hope is a thing with feathers/That perches in the soul…..one of its faces is creativity.

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So more about the care and feeding of your writer……morning pages. They are the creation of Dorothea Brande to help her writing students learn discipline, and Julia Cameron included them in her Artist’s Way as a tool. You wake up in the morning and you write, long hand, three pages. Morning pages can be used to help you begin writing, they can be used when you’re in a stall, and they can be used to calm down fear. The idea is that you just pour whatever is inside onto the pages. Some say it drains away the negativity. (Much of morning pages is whining.) Some say ideas began to crop up now and then. Some say if you go back to the pages after a period of weeks, you can find a little gold, evidence of your talent or an idea for a story.

I once took a creativity course in which we had to do morning pages for six weeks. At some point near the end, we sat down with our pages and reread them. We had notecards on which to write anything interesting. There was a lot of drivel in mine, but also some really descriptive touches that pleased me very much and helped me later write about the death of my sister. The late Ray Bradbury used the idea of morning pages as a leaping off place. He woke with dreams still in his head and wrote the images, which became the seeds of stories. He learned to trust that not-quite awake state as a place to mine his imagination.

If you’re stalled, I can see stopping the work for a time, but doing morning pages faithfully. You’ll be writing, likely about your stall, and you may actually write past your complaints and fears back into the story you’re working on. And if you’re not disciplined, begin with morning pages. Do them every morning for six to eight weeks, then step back and see that you have been disciplined. And there will likely be a little gold to encourage you onward.

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Here’s more on the care and feeding of your writer…..writers empty, particularly on long projects, like novels. Or they empty as they try to balance making a living at something else along with writing. Or they empty as they don’t ever finish a writing project. Or they empty as they mean to but don’t write. Or they empty as they don’t sell or get published. They get dry and used-up feelings. They get flat. They get sad and disheartened.

The artist’s date, a concept created by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, is an excellent way to make the curious, light- hearted child of your writer remember its smile. It’s a once a week date with yourself, and yourself only, to explore play, old dreams, forgotten curiosities. It a way to fill up the well. You can begin by listing 20 things you used to do that you don’t any more. Or by playing with your alter egos: what would you be if you could have five other lives: a dancer, a baker, a musician, a priest, a father? So you take out skates and go ice skating again or you go to a cathedral and listen to evensong or you sit in a park and watch young children play. You fill, and refilling is a slow process. It’s a correction of what has probably been years of neglect.

You pay attention again to an inner self. You take tiny pieces of forgotten dreams, tiny pieces of forgotten interests, and you do only that tiny piece: walk through art galleries soaking in color; ride the city bus to a place you haven’t explored but always looked interesting from the window; buy crayons and color blank pages or chalk up the sidewalk in front of your house. Paint a room red. Forgotten or long-for hobbies, classes you’d like to take if you had time, silly things you’d do if you dared, these are the closed boxes holding interest and curiosity, two things your writer needs to feel alive.  You recharge your  most tender and creative self with artist’s dates. You show respect when it feels like no one else in the world is.

It’s a daring act to make a continuing play date with your writer. It reopens longing, regret, curiosity, risk. And worst of all, maybe fun.