The metaphor that writing about metaphors has uncovered for me . . . .

The terrific folks at The Write Practice have put up the final post in my three-post series about similes and metaphors. These were great fun to write, and I’m tickled to share them with TWP’s readers.

Most interesting to me is that explaining metaphor for an audience that ranges from novice to advanced required me to re-ground myself in the basics. Like, what is a dictionary definition of metaphor? And will that make any sense to those who are embarking on their writing journey?

It’s easy to forget the good, the bad and the ugly of the early days of learning something–parenting, music-making, knitting, writing. And it’s impossible to fully return to not-knowing, once we’ve learned something.

But having learned something, I believe it is our responsibility to share it. Those who take the time to remember their beginning steps and who make sense of those steps give everyone a gift–a gift of wisdom, of strategy, of beauty, of possibility.

img_3872These days, as I aim to figure out how to manifest my ideal of “democratic citizen,” I’ve been leaning on the wisdom of those leaders and activists and students of history who wrote down their stories. My favorite tome at the moment is The Impossible Will Take a Little While, edited by Paul Rogat Loeb

So pick up your pen and write!; we want to witness your journey, learn from your regrets, sustain and extend your advances.

May it be so.

Focus: Writing and Engaging

Last Friday, I finished my MFA semester work and emerged blinking like a teenager at noon into the post-election world.* During those days of deep writing, I have again had the chance to guest post at The Write Practice–this time about metaphors–and the estimable Donna Thompson has featured my colleague Jenny Zia and me on her Women Influencing the Arts blog.

Taking the time to engage with the broader writing community has upped my focus on time management. Two months ago I promised myself I’d experiment with craft learning in the evenings, followed by a morning practice of that craft. I was looking at complex-compound sentences at the time. And I thought I’d experiment for about a month and then share what I found.

Noting the irony inherent in claiming to have focused on time management but not having met a self-imposed deadline, here’s what I found: I can write after three in the afternoon. In fact, some days I generate powerful first-draft material in the afternoon. But learning writing craft before I go to bed? Not so much. Maybe this is because I exhaust my focus muscle during a day of writing, or because my metabolism prefers dawn to night at this point in my life. But what I found is that evenings are a great time for me to catch up on reading my Writer’s Chronicle and Poets & Writers and the interviews in The Paris Review. In fact, sometimes the ideas I find in those sources jump-start my next-day’s free write. Plus: I don’t spend precious daytime focus hours reading about writing.

* Re: the election, from my FB reply to a friend: I walked in the woods and cried a little and when I looked up, a leaf was floating slowly slowly slowly down down down in that stop start and swirl way that leaves do and then . . . it landed in the uppermost branches of a sapling; it did not fall to the forest floor. And I thought: we will be held through this. Blessed be. Blessed unrest. Blessed be the peacemakers.

Have you played around with your writing life schedule? I’d love to hear what you’ve done, and how it worked — I’m especially curious to know if things have shifted for you at different life stages. Let me know in the comments section below.

 

Writers: messy or meticulous?

Ever come across a notebook filled with your handwriting but no memory of it? Or a book with sticky flags adorning its pages, but no idea of why you attached them? Me too. When it comes to tracking my free-writes, story drafts, my analytical papers, I have verged on, and crossed into, chaos for much of my writing life. But pursuing an MFA has made it very clear that my creative impulses are worthless, and my craft analysis superficial, unless I can find what I need, pronto.

I have organizational tendencies–my grocery lists are made according to the store layout. My books are alphabetized. I meet deadlines. I’m sure there’s a Deep Psychological Reason that I haven’t treated my creative writing with the same respect I do food, books and freelance assignments. But since I spend plenty of time in therapy already, so rather than muse about what that Reason might be, I’m going to share the quick-and-dirty organizational habit I have begun forming.

I’ve come up with  three main components of my Effort at Organization.

  1. Deliberate intentions
  2. Direct interaction
  3. Daily integration

    Year-long planning to keep the Big Picture in mind.

    Year-long planning to keep the Big Picture in mind.

Deliberate Intentions: I spend 5-10 minutes each morning with my calendars. Two on the wall, a year-long, dry-erase one (available from Neuyear.net) and a weekly one (based on Jeffrey Davis’s Mind Rooms Guide). My third calendar is my online/phone calendar.

From Jeffrey Davis's Mind Rooms Guide

From Jeffrey Davis’s Mind Rooms Guide

I review what I’d intended to do yesterday, figure out if  I need to change today’s plan. Then I take a square of pretty paper and jot down rough time guesstimates for each activity and adjust if my total is more than the time I have available. Note: the process of setting up a year-long calendar will get another post. That’s a Big Process.

Notes . . . to action

Notes to action!

Direct Interaction: I scribble all over my books, my drafts, the feedback from my MFA supervisor. It’s the way I think. When I’m done, I put a big sticky note on the front cover of the book or the first page of the draft or the feedback sheets, and I jot down what I want to do next: type into ss draft ASAP. Type into “ideas file.” Ignore until after winter break. Re-read in June 2017. Submit to WHR by Nov. 30. These go into the Daily Integration pile.

Daily Integration: I allot time each day to tackle the accumulated direct interaction pieces. The pile of these isn’t so high that it’s wobbling, but I have yet to eliminate it entirely.

It has taken me YEARS to get here. And every single week, there’s at least one day where I completely, and I mean completely, fail. Maybe because the book I’m reading is so good I ignore everything else for the day (Like So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell. And The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder.)

I’m befriending failure; all that therapy has gotten me to the place where I can forgive myself, take a nap, or just go straight to bed and start again the next day.

I’d love to hear how you organize your writing life–and if you occasionally verge or cross into chaos, how do you extricate yourself? Share with us in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Today I went live at The Write Practice . . .

. . . as a guest blogger. What fun! Check it out at The Write Practice blog.

Thanks to Joe Bunting and his terrific Write Practice team for giving me the opportunity. I’ll follow this post — about similes — with another one or two about metaphors later this year. Onward!

This wasn’t what I was going to write about . . .

I was going to write about beauty. I had lofty plans, including references to neuroscience.

But yesterday this quote caught my eye:

On a day when the wind is perfect,

the sail just needs to open

and the world is full of beauty.

Today is such a day.

–Rumi

And today Sara Dobie Bauer’s blog holds a terrific video of Benedict Cumberbatch reading a letter from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse about the practice of art.

Sharing these says enough about beauty and the art of practice, for now. Neuroscience-y post will come next week.

May you and your writing open your sails and abide by LeWitt’s advice to DO.

When your writing seems . . . weird.

Yesterday my writing felt odd, awkward, out of place. So I picked up Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and read some perspective-setting words and then filmed this.

 

Craft Matters: Timing is everything. Or is it?

We whirl through our days amidst commitments internally- and externally-imposed; some weeks we have to squeeze in our writing while waiting for the doctor, the oil change, the vet and yes that is my upcoming week.

But today I read this terrific post by Noa Kageyama, whose equally terrific blog, The Bulletproof Musician, frequently addresses matters of effective practice and discipline that applies to all of us aiming for artistry. This one looks at a study that examined how efficient learning is when it’s done at night rather than in the morning.

Don’t mess with my morning mojo, my writing muse whispered. You can’t write after three in the afternoon! I will not watch the sunset with you! 

No matter how gorgeous the sunset, my muse thinks evenings are Not a Good Time to Write. I'm going to see if she's right.

No matter how gorgeous the sunset, my muse thinks evenings are Not a Good Time to Write. Is she right?

 But the *evidence* shows that people learn and remember their learning more efficiently and effectively if they tackle it in the evening, go to bed, and then practice again in the morning. Huh. Is my muse really so special that she will be exempt from evidence-based research? Actually, is this really about my muse, that elusive spark of inspiration, or is this about the simple learning and practicing of craft?

I think it’s the latter. If I want to get the compound-complex sentence down cold (my current craft focus, inspired by David Foster Wallace’s jaw-dropping application of basic grammatical tenets), I need to learn its form and practice it.

Although I’d like to think I’m very special, I suspect that I’m no more special than anyone else when it comes to my grey matter. So based on Kageyama’s post, I am going to ignore my muse and set up some evening craft reading-learning-practicing exercise sessions for myself, followed by next-morning follow-up craft reading-learning-practicing exercise sessions.

I’ll let you know how it goes in about a month–and if you have any experiences with how you’ve learned specific writing craft, tell us all about it in comments below!