Tag Archives: writing

madness

Here’s something I wrote for Creative Madness Mama. At first I felt like I had no idea what to say, but I started anyway and before I knew it, words flowed out. That’s the way it is with writing prompts, why I like them, why writers who feel stuck should practice with them………
I wish I were creatively mad. Perhaps then I wouldn’t worry so. But when I think about it, creative madness does have me. Why write about a family in the early 18th century and become so engaged with them that you take the story backwards instead of forwards to write about the grandmother? Why take the story backwards instead of forwards? Why spend your days imagining what a character might have said or how she/he would react? Why read biographies and social commentaries and memoirs and funny old almanacs and recipe books? People around me rise at 7 am, go off to work in a cubicle. I can stay at home in my pajamas and daydream about other centuries and people who aren’t real, or who were real but now are gone. That’s crazy, that’s madness. That’s creative……………..

 
The best part of creative madness is when I know I have the story. It’s when the characters become as real as someone I live with. To leap off the reams of biography and commentary about Louis XIV and know him when he was 22 and vulnerable and wanting to live up to an ideal was crazy and incredibly liberating. I became very fond of him in Before Versailles. I hope you become fond of him, too…….
Do you ever experience creative madness? 

care6

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?

care5

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.

the garden

I can never resist the garden in the spring. Houston’s been in a false spring since January, and I’ve been outside happily cleaning and clearing and filling bare spaces with what I hope will thrive. I’ve watched many a season of what I like die or grow spindly from lack of sun, for the yard I work in is a shady one towered over by a very old camphor tree that is quite decided in what it lets grow beneath. I’ve been in a battle with that tree for years, and mostly it won. But with time, I’ve been able to edge the yard with things that thrive, ivies, gingers, cannas, iron plants. There’s a life lesson there….to make a regular habit of cleaning away muck…..and something  about acceptance. To work with what you have. To bloom where you’re planted….but what if there’s shade? Then you green where you’re planted, don’t you?

What’s in your spring garden? Outside and within? Have you raked it lately?

vision

I’m back listening again to The Writer’s Almanac. It’s fun and heartening for anyone writing, whether that’s in a journal or something larger. In addition to reading a poem every day, the host, Garrison Keillor, always includes anecdotes about writers, how we fumble and fail, stumble on success or don’t. If you write to be published, there is an enormous amount of work that is completely unseen, that which is dropped, changed, rewritten dozens of times. Anyway, this quote was up on the site, and it touched a nerve.

Writers end up writing stories or rather stories’ shadows, and they’re grateful if they can, but is is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough.

I think it’s speaking of the gap between the vision and the finished project…….do you know what I mean? Is it always impossible to grasp the vision? An artist I know says she has learned she can’t control creativity. What do you think?

let it spill

Thoughts from the week…………………………

First, a poem leaps out at me as I resume the habit of reading poetry daily:

My Cup by Robert Friend

They tell me I am going to die.

Why don’t I seem to care?

My cup is full. Let it spill.

Brave, bold words which strike hard at the me who has no idea how to navigate these older decades, which seem to suck so many into bitterness and despair. What was it Odysseus had to navigate? The whirlpool Charybdis….some days I row too close to the whirlpool, too far away from the sun.

I am also feeling as if I have nothing new left to say in this blog, so I look back to old blogs to recycle and come across this (slightly reworked this version) from July of 2009. It seems a hint toward finding the blessing implied in Robert Friend’s poem, and so I share it…..

Neil Young sings:

I want to live

I want to give

I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold……

and I’m getting old.

I thought about my searches for a heart of gold. What that meant to me was finding someone who would love me without ever hurting me. It was about me being loved, not so much about my loving.

And then I was reading Byron Katie, and very stark sentences leaped off the page: ultimately there is only you; you are your own suffering; you are your own happiness. And I thought about what had flitted through my mind as I hummed along with Neil Young: I’m the heart of gold.

It is the quality of my loving, which includes loving myself. And I’m growing old.”

wrecks

A big, fat old manuscript sits on my dining room table. It’s the copyedited version of the novel that is coming out this June. I have to read myself one more time! This when I’m trying to begin to discern any strands of the misty cobweb that is the beginning of a novel, the gossamer nothing that is beginning, the story that isn’t there, the idea that can’t quite be grasped. What a fool I am, I always think when I’m beginning a novel (and when I’m deep in it) to think I can do this. I guess it’s because once the story starts to live, it’s hard to imagine it any other way. But until it breaths on its own, I have to have such trust, such faith, such sheer bullheadedness. It was easier when I was younger, the bullheadedness, I mean. The faith and trust are the work of my grey hairs. As English novelist Iris Murdock once said, “Every novel is the wreck of a perfect idea.”

oil

I’ve joined a writing group here in Taos. Everyone brings a saying or quote. We throw them out. We write from the prompt of one or more for 30 minutes. We share, but no critique, just what we liked in each other’s writing. I love this kind of writing, gentle, explorative, safe, and so often, revealing. This last week, the oil spill came up in several people’s writing. There was everything from rage to prayers for us and the earth. Last night, at a dinner party, the spill came up again. Again, rage and blame. What can we do? What if people just met one evening and did a candlelight vigil for the Gulf? One of those same time all over the place vigils? And there are always petitions to sign, and congress people to write. Being here in Taos, where nature is so vibrant and where space has been protected from development because of the Pueblo, I wonder if the Pueblo Indians are still keeping guard over the earth. That’s what I’ve heard; that their religion is the earth and sky and that their life is around loving and celebrating both. But there aren’t very many of them, and modern life is making inroads into their culture.

I wonder what it’s going to take to get people to let the powers-that-be know that enough is enough? We have to begin, no matter how hard, to be more in harmony with the place that sustains us. So what do you say: pick an evening, get a candle, make a sign that says “enough,” call a couple of friends, and stand vigil for just a little while for the Gulf and for the earth…..

creature

Something has occurred to me about my creativity as I spend the summer in my meadow in Taos. I’ve been attempting to stuff all of it into some kind of routine, but there are times where a project is burning, and it consumes. Out goes meditation, exercise, regular meals, seeing friends. You’re in it––for me the story––in it deep, and you just want to get through it. And I’ve decided, that’s ok.

So, as I’m working right now, on a last set of revisions, I’m deep, deep inside the story, and all I want to do is work. I make myself eat. I make myself take walks when mental exhaustion sets in. I meditate, but skip it, too.  I take a day off sometimes. But I dive back in hard. Nothing else really exists for me. The time is 1661, not 2010.

However, when I’m creating the story from its first little seeds, I need routine to hold me fast. Otherwise, the task before me seems too huge. I’ll fly away like a bird and never come back. So having a routine where I get out of the house (office) and am among people feels good. I need to have lunch with friends. I need to see my grandchildren. I need to go to my exercise class. I need to meditate to keep myself from being too afraid, to stay in trust that the project will have its form. I’m in the new creativity, but it’s too undiscerned yet for me to know where I am or that it will find itself. In that case, a simple showing up and working, but then leaving before I tire myself too much, seems to do the trick. I outlast the fear and have the routine of my days to make my life feel real. The routine rocks the baby of fear to sleep. So I can press on.

So my creativity has two phases: a building phase and a constructing-like-hell phase, and each requires different rythums.

Can you add anything to that? Any insight? Any way you work? A disagreement? An affirmation, though creativity is like a thumbprint, different for each person. What an interesting creature it is and how long it takes to know it.

For writing whines, visit karleenkoen.net.

workshop

I came across some notes from a poetry workshop given by Texas poet Lianne Mercer: Writing is a physical thing. Let is spill out and get somewhere. Don’t think. Keep your hand moving. Have few expectations. Admit you don’t want to write so you can get past it. Be willing to take what comes. Be curious about what might come. Pause and breathe….. Good advice about more than writing.

And here’s a poem I wrote in that workshop set in the wonderful Hill Country of Texas…..

I had a boy’s body once

slim and lithe running forward

then blood came

and breasts and a burka of shoulds as old as Eve

covering spirit

covering daring

making me a girl

waiting on a man