Dancing With the Muse
Retooling my flight plan....
Not long ago I discovered Lary (one r) Crews' posts on a Flickr Writers discussion board. His pep talk and his advice inspired me to start Dancing With the Muse, a blog devoted to the writing process as I experience it. That blog is also a motivational tool for me.
"Tell yourself writer's block doesn't exist," he asserts.
I love that line.
Simple. Succinct. Writer's block doesn't exist. Never did, never will. No worries.
It's a powerful affirmation.
Most of his techniques (treated in more detail in his posts) are things I've already put into practice for myself. But they're good reminders for me, and a couple of twists have let me see familiar territory in new ways.
1. Start a project anywhere, just to get it started. I usually have no problem starting stories or articles. Usually my information comes to me in a great glob, all the details vying for top billing. Once I get them down in a mishmash I can start lining them up in an orderly fashion. This is especially true for deadline-driven corporate writing.
2. Skip the beginning. My writing is usually pretty linear, but sometimes I jump ahead and put in placeholders. It felt unnatural at first, but when I get a vision I'm best off if I get it down while it's still potent. Otherwise it fades away like a dream.
3. "Write yourself a letter." I do this in my journal notes. I ask myself questions about the story: "What if we did A, B, and C? What does that mean down the line? What's important?"
4. "Write about not being able to write." I've done that in my journal, too. Being unable to write, period, is generally not my problem, but I've written about being stuck on Book #4. That usually launches me into more notes that will come in handy later.
5. Brainstorm. Again, I do this with my notes. The "cluster thinking" Crews mentions is very similar to the Persona Workshop I've given at conventions and in my teaching.
6. "Create a place you'd like to be." That's my studio. I tell Mary I generally don't care what she does with the rest of the house, but this 12 by 14.5-foot sanctuary is mine.
7. "Write consistently." I do this, but my commitment now is to be more focused. (See #17, below.)
8. Keep several writing projects going at once. I'm better at this in the less-creative realm because I'm not as emotionally invested in that work. When I'm involved in a story I "go native" -- working on two or more deep-structure stories at once would be like acting in multiple gut-wrenching plays simultaneously. On the other hand, mixing the deep stuff with less demanding fare works fine for me.
9. "Change your scene." This is one reason I carry my notebook everywhere. Sometimes I just have to sit on a park bench and write, or I buy a cup of coffee to "rent" a writing table at a cafe. Earlier tonight I was scribbling notes at the bakery while Mary was in their bathroom brushing her teeth. The simple act of walking gets my mental gears turning. So does travel of any kind, even if I'm not personally moving -- subway trains have proven a fertile ground for ideas.
10. "Change your writing." One of the things I love about my free-writing group is the ideas other members come up with. The at-home assignment for this week was to take a story ending and write the story that led up to it. My writing is usually pretty serious, but Monday night -- in addition to work on Book #4 -- I turned out a 2,569-word story geared for laughs. I'll see how it goes over with the group tomorrow.
11. "Read your own writing." Especially in longer pieces, I prime my creative pump by reading the preceding section. It helps me get a consistent flow and it gets me into the mood of the piece. It's like walking through a doorway from this world into my fictional one.
12. "Read what others have written." I not only read for craft but I watch for craft. My latest version of that is Animal Planet's Meerkat Manor, which I adore. The writers of that show have condensed ten years of research and one-plus year of I-don't-want-to-think-about-how-many-hours-of-footage into neatly-packaged half-hour segments. Every episode opens with a rundown of the major characters and a catch-phrase for each. Mozart is "the caring one." Youssarian "has social problems." It's brilliant. I realized that coming up with a catch-phrase that encapsulates each of my own characters wouldn't be a bad idea, so I labeled them with the first thing that came into my head. TS is "the defiant one." BB "has identity problems." And so on. The characters have more traits than that, but free-associating on their "essence" helps me focus. On the reading end I was recently wowed by Kelley Benham's "Kennel Trash" (July 30 St. Petersburg Times), not only for its heartbreaking content but by her writing style.
13. "Read About Writing." In addition to good guidance from books about writing, I learn from various writing forums, reading about the approaches other people take.
14. "Set goals and measure your progress." I've done this, on and off, for my own creative projects. Now I'm "on" again. I've always done it for deadline-driven projects as a way to keep my sanity while meeting demand. I like Crews' valuing of time spent on a project as opposed to (or supplementing) word count. When I'm "in the zone" I can churn out 5,000 or more words in a day. When that "communion" eludes me my output can be 1/10 that, or less, accomplished in the same period of work and with much more tearing out of hair.
15. "Talk about your writing." This entry, for example. And now Dancing With the Muse.
16. "Start feeling guilty" for not writing. I agree very strongly with this, and sometimes it's painful. Ever since I was a kid I knew that whatever I did for a living would support my writing. At times I've taken a detour from that during my crazier work schedules, but even then I sought refuge in my journal when I could not focus on more creative output. Other forms of expression, such as art and photography, helped fulfill my creative needs and provided a "vacation" of sorts from the demands of deep-structure storytelling. They're all valuable, and they've helped me return to the writing with a fresh perspective. Sometimes, though, I've used them as a form of procrastination.
17. "Tell yourself writer's block doesn't exist." This one made my eyes pop open. I never thought of myself as having writer's block in the first place, but that's different from completely negating the phenomenon. That negation is wholly liberating for me with respect to Book #4, to which I have now made a renewed commitment. Ideally I will add something to the draft daily. Barring that I will scribble notes. I have been tackling my restructuring problem by setting up a list of scenes I want to write and then writing them in separate documents, rather than trying to fit them into the main body of work. I've never done this before, and it feels disjointed. But I am at least creating the pieces for the jigsaw puzzle I will eventually fit together -- something I've been telling myself to do for months but haven't really put into practice until now. Thanks, Lary.
18. "Write anything that pops into your head that isn't germane to what you're writing at the moment." Depending on what the "anything" is, I use either my journal notebook or I open up another screen on my computer. Not only does it help my idea bank, but I get it out of my system so it doesn't nag me while I'm trying to concentrate on other things. This is similar to Julia Cameron's "morning pages" in her book The Artist's Way. It's a brain dump.
I started putting my revised flight plan into effect on July 30, making a daily commitment to my characters and to their story in one form or another. Dancing With the Muse chronicles my progress.
In other flights (on August 1) --
"Lemon wedge" is what Mary calls this moon. This isn't a true 3d stereogram, but combining the images brings out the crater detail best seen in the right-hand shot (#6, 10:42:19 PM EDT, 1/10-second exposure at f/5.6), and the mare detail best seen in the left-hand shot (#12, 10:42:53 PM EDT, 1/15-second exposure at f/5.6).
To visually combine the shots, cross your eyes and then relax your gaze while focusing on the "center" image.
Photographed at 10:43:48 PM EDT, 4-second exposure at f/6.3.
I've overexposed the Moon (close to dipping behind trees shown at the bottom in dark silhouette) to bring out Jupiter almost directly above it.
According to Fact Monster, the Moon as seen here was about 6-3/4 hours short of first quarter, and about 9-3/4 hours short of conjunction with Jupiter, when they were 5 degrees apart.