How Do I Do? Very well, thanks.

Natalie Goldberg says to free write until you get past monkey mind and she’s right. Then again, for decades she’s been right about writing. So, thanks to her I’ve altered my morning writing sessions. For years I’ve clung to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and filled three pages, much of which was truly monkey mind, full of to-do lists or rambling self-castigation about my insipid journal. Then, for a short while I tried to model my morning writing after Eric Maisel’s Deep Writing, attempting to “clear my mind” and write “deeply” about the first object in my line of sight. That approach ended when I wrote deeply about my slippers or my coffee table.

Recently I’ve been adhering to Nat’s advice in The True Secret of Writing. (I feel free to refer to her by her nickname, having once met her briefly at a book fair.) More often now, I’m having fun, not as quick to judge, believing most days, that if I don’t censor and don’t quit at the bottom of page three, something interesting and fresh will pop up, sort of whack-a-molish. But lately I don’t smack the pop-up, keep the pen moving, excited to see where the words lead. And I’m through, I think, demanding that every page I fill must be productive.

For all my years of preaching process and practice over product and publication, I see now that I often didn’t take my own advice. Now I have a purse-sized notebook full of Nat’s advice–like “Don’t waste this one precious life.” Writing is again discovery, getting beyond my own opinions and, you know, it’s fun. And the more fun I have, the less I ration time and paper.

Chunk Reality

Reading Kim Addonizio’s Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within, I took her advice and “fell in love” with the first thing I saw when I looked up from the book. Well, shoot, what I saw was my own foot in a black sandal, propped on the corner of the coffee table. Really, Kim? My own foot? Okay, I’ll try. And I glanced at her list of “new words,” another recommendation. Ah, pollex and hallux, meaning thumb and big toe. Okay, I have two big toes. This has to go somewhere.

And it did, other than misspelling pollex, I dove in and came up for air an hour or so later, having landed a good sized poem. Addonizio’s advice isn’t exactly new to me. I’ve long admired “thing” poems that showcase the tangible world and find meaning there. The prompt worked because it brought me close to one thing and its parts. The process is called chunking.

I am relearning this. The world is way to big for my small brain and worried heart. Otherwise, going forward I see so many issues to track that I shut down, concentrate on jigsaw puzzles or crosswords. But shutting down is not a wise option. So I am learning to chunk the worry, pick one issue and pay attention, see if I can help relieve my angst and make a difference, however small, in the chaos that is civilization.

Writing witness poems and stories in our age of political fragmentation, I cannot continue to practice scatter-shot activism. For me, the key issue is climate change. True, it has a thousand moving parts, but it supersedes so much else. If I can’t breathe, I can’t vote. If I don’t vote . . . well, that’s just not an option. Writers can, must, respond to the world as it is. Else what good are we?

#KimAddonizio #ThingPoems

Creative Reading

I’m deep into Azar Nafisi’s The Republic of Imagination, in which she mentions “Creative Reading.” Google explains: “CREATIVE READING IS DEFINED AS READING FOR IMPLIED AND INFERRED MEANINGS, APPRECIATIVE REACTIONS, AND CRITICAL EVALUATION. THE ACT OF CRITICAL READING GOES BEYOND LITERAL COMPREHENSION TO DEMAND THAT THE READER PRODUCE FRESH, ORIGINAL IDEAS NOT EXPLICITLY STATED IN THE READING MATERIAL.” https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED020090

The concept challenges me to forego my habit of reading like a writer–attending to craft, structure, bits and bobs of language. If I shift my focus, squint a little, I think I could start by admitting that I have expectations when I open a book: I’ll be entertained, I’ll learn something, I’ll be awed by the writing, I’ll be distracted from the ugly national/international/climate news.

And I have different expectations that spring from the general category of the material. For instance, opening poet Ada Limon’s The Carrying, I looked forward to insights into another woman’s private world that I could not access otherwise. Limon does not disappoint. No lack of “appreciative reactions” there.

Reading Nafisi, though, I am deluged with ideas. Not unusual in reading nonfiction. Of course, I’ve yet to “produce fresh, original ideas not explicitly stated in the reading material.” There’s already so much in Nafisi’s prose that I haven’t yet found space for my own ideas. But what she gives me is valuable, and I am challenged to go beyond “literal comprehension.”

Nafisi has dared me to set aside my familiar ways of reading and to widen my view. I’ve been reading since I was four years old. About time for a new approach, eh?

#CreativeReading #AdaLimon #AzarNafisi

Talk, Talk, Talk

Lately, it seems I talk a lot. Possibly, more than is helpful. On Sunday I talked to a group of people about poetry. They were all adults (Kids and poetry startle me, like giving them too much sugar, so they get squirrely). We talked about the essential concerns I see in writing poems. Like getting caught up in technique and missing the creativity. Thinking that there is one kind of poetry, a basket word if I ever heard one. Generic, like music or food or weather. Better to speak of specifics. Poetry might mean sonnets or it might mean rap, slam, language poetry, prose poems or haiku.  It includes the many years old Gilgamesh, Illiad, Odyssey, as well as the latest thing on Instagram.

This coming weekend, I’m engaged to talk to poets about self-publishing. I’ve got my list of salient points and a tote bag full of books, from my first independently published chapbooks to the latest volumes I’ve created for friends. I’ve got my list of does and don’ts. And several handouts from online outfits that will do the work for you, for a price.

In the meantime, I’m reading Robert Darnton’s Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature. And so far, I’m gobsmacked to realize that I live in a time and place that allows me to publish my own books and to help others do the same. The book police won’t  throw me into the Bastille. (Yes, that happened in France in the eighteenth century.) Self publishing is not a lucrative endeavor, although it seems to have been in Paris where illegal books slipped past the censors and the tax men. Darnton knows a lot about clandestine printing, selling, and suffering for books.

Yes, I too suffer for books, but in my own private way–what to put in, what to leave out, how to say something that might last the night.

#SelfPublishing #Censorship

A Novel Approach

Writing a novel is work; no news there. But it helps to gain perspective from other writers. I was feeling stuck about the plot line for my work in progress, hiking up a steep slope with no idea how to reach the summit. Not a good idea for a Coloradan. So, in desperation I checked out a how-to book from my wonderful Anythink Library–my walking stick, my water bottle, my sturdy backpack, most of what a writer needs when she’s on a long walkabout.

Reading James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure has set my feet (and my fingers) on the right path. It took a while, as I tiptoed my way through the three-act structure that has become important to novelists. Finally I focused on a page suggesting that the end, the blessed, welcome peak, might be reached in such a way that the lead character does not get what she wants but the result is still positive. Combine this with Bell’s advice to up the tension between the lead and the antagonist—voila! A vista to behold on a sunny day.

I have yet to write the scene, but driving to an appointment Friday morning, I decided on the exact setting for the decisive scene. And I’ve identified more clearly the two opposing characters who will make the scene memorable—I hope. So, my work can resume. I’ll go ahead and do all the little edits that I’ve scribbled into the “Yellow” copy (I print on colored paper until I’m pretty close to done.) And then add that all important scene before hitting save. Oddly enough, I already have the final sentence. Just have to hike that hill to where I can declare the first full version done, let it stew a while and then dig in for the final run.

What a Writer Needs

Packing for a roadtrip to Telluride CO for a poetry weekend. And I’m suffering my usual doubts and desires about packing. After many years of writing I know, sort of, what I need to get writing done. But traveling means that I can’t have it all. I cannot take along my office space or my favorite coffee shop despite my need for a place where I’m comfortable and not likely to be distracted or interrupted. So, scratch that for the next few days, although I’ll find a corner now and then. Being an early riser often means that I can write before fellow travelers are afoot.

Of course, I need my basic tools–plenty of paper and ink, a reliable, portable thing, in my case that’s an iPad and attached keyboard. Of course, I need time. When my children were young, writing time was late evening. Now my internal clock prefers early morning. I’ll just have to be flexible as a guest in someone’s home.

My real need is writing every day, yes, every day. And of course, I need readers and other writers. I need librarians. (This week, I tried to read The Library Book by Susan Orlean, an account of the horrific fire years ago at the Los Angeles Public Library. Had to set it aside before I finished because it’s just too hard to read with tears in my eyes.)

Every devoted writer needs what she needs–the sound of language, the sight of words lined up across the page, margin to margin, good ducklings after their mama. Most of all I need to keep writing, because as E. M. Forster said, “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?” Hope you all have a good week. See you after I get home.

Distraction vs Research

How do I manage to waste so much of my time? I make lists of things to do, writing things, but seldom complete the checking off, often moving a task to the next list. Aargh! I was efficient in my professional paid work for over four decades. Now I fritter away an hour or more with crossword puzzles or tidying the clothes closet. Meanwhile the characters in my novel-in-progress grumble among themselves: “She’s ignoring us again. Maybe we should rebel, take over the plot, or escape with the next writer she meets in the coffee shop.” Sitting here with the blog before me, I know I should start the day working on the scenes I’ve scribbled all week and now must decide where to insert them in the storyline. You see, don’t you, that I know what to do, but I’m not doing it, am I?

The deep reason is fear. It’s all good to scribble on scrap paper and congratulate myself on another 800 words, but committing those words to print, ah, I lack courage. Who do I think I am writing poems and novels? So those lost moments contribute to my excuse of research.

Sometimes I go to the Union Station in Denver and watch people for hours, sketch their appearance on the scrap paper I keep in my work bag. Yesterday I went to the library and spent an hour or so studying a travel atlas for routes that my protagonist might drive, small towns that would suit the plot. And darn it, I thought I was doing something worthwhile, but those details are window dressing, not substance.

Maybe I was ignoring my left brain boss who says, Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. Giving full control to my “big-picture” right brain where observation is approved. Then again, both brain hemispheres earn their keep. Slowly, slowly, the narrative takes shape. And then I worry all over again that the reader will toss the book aside and do crossword puzzles to pass the time.