Tag Archives: writing practice

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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!

Writing Fail . . .

I’m playing with video because, y’know, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth at least a couple thousand. Includes terrific words on forgiveness by poet David Whyte.

I know, I know, I’m an agnostic …

The version of the flaming chalice currently u...

Unitarian Universalist Flaming Chalice Image via Wikipedia

… but these words, shared by the Blacksburg Unitarian Universalist Church’s interim minister Rev. Alex Richardson, moved me enough to want to share them, as I believe one of the ways we save ourselves from small personal hells is through writing. These words are all a prelude, of sorts, to the longer post I’m working on.

This is from a sermon, We Are All About Saving Souls by the Rev. Suzanne Meyer.

“… There are many kinds of private hells in which living men and women dwell every day. These are small personal hells of meaninglessness, banality, and loneliness. Hells of shame, hells of guilt, hells of loss, hells of failure. There are as many kinds of these small hells as there are people who live in them. And from some of those hells, we, as a church, can and do provide a kind of salvation, a release, or, at the very least, a respite. We are in the business of saving souls from those kinds of small individual hells of despair and disappointment that drive people into exile and isolation, separated from community as well as from their own essential goodness.

“… We are saved, at last, by the fellowship of people no better or worse off than we are. What liberates us from those tiny hells in which we dwell all alone is as common as a handshake, as ordinary as hearing your name spoken by another, as simple as being asked to share your thoughts.

“We are one another’s salvation.”

When I looked for a link to Rev. Meyer, I learned that she passed away in 2010. An online eulogy for her includes this George Bernard Shaw quote as a summary of her outlook:

English: Anglo-Irish playwright George Bernard...

George Bernard Shaw, Image via Wikipedia

“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

It’s possible that I’m going to give up my efforts at original creative writing in favor of readingreadingreading, finding who’s said it better and more accurately before me and then just (re)tweeting those words like mad. Though I suspect that’s not quite sufficient purpose for the “splendid torch” of my life ….