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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mind Harnessing Strategy #2

The first strategy I came up with was rather eclectic and running on the high energy of a mind explosion. This second strategy is more subdued by comparison. It may require less coffee than the first strategy, and more control of conscious decision-making. (I know, I’m getting awfully close to the concept of “discipline” but think of it as a choice to grow, not to close anything off..)

OK. Here it is:

Take on the role of observer. Sit back and watch the thoughts and they appear. Just watch. Settle down and watch them dance around in front of your eyes. Smile at them. See which ones call your attention to them longer than the others. Follow one or two of them as they present their potential. Don’t worry about trying to capture them just yet; just watch and follow them with your mind.

When you have observed a bit, begin to jot down some ideas, images, impressions, whatever comes to mind. As other thoughts that are not relevant to the one or two that you chose come into focus, just let them come and let them go. Don’t stress over how incredibly fantastic they are because unless they grab you with an unreleasing grip, this simply isn’t their time. Even great things can be distractions when their timing is off, and when you are in the throes of a mind explosion, everything is great, and therefore, everything has the potential to distract and destroy. So let them go. You do not need to force them off the edges of consciousness or chase them away, just let them go.

Mind Harnessing Strategy #1

I recently wrote about the mind explosions I often experience in the mornings. It feels like I’m being so bombarded with creative ideas that I am in a state of major overload. An in the manic high that often greets me with the rising sun, I am absolutely convinced that every one of those ideas is a rare gem that I have to harvest from the walls of my mind and polish into the ever-ellusive masterpiece.

While the experience excites me, it also kind of disturbs me because I am simply not capable of extracting every single one of them and spinning them all into the diamonds they promise to become. So I’ve been thinking about the idea of harnessing my mind.

I’m not sure that is the best way to describe what I’m thinking of, but I sure don’t want to use the word “discipline”. So for now, mind harnessing will have to suffice.

Here is one strategy that settled on my consciousness one cold, snowy afternoon:

Write wildly and eclectically to capture ideas with no reason and no intent. Just grab and run. Do this by writing whatever you see and think; do this as a collection of random words and occasional snippets of more complete ideas, but don’t worry if nothing becomes complete. If time allows, change colors, but don’t be so concerned about writing in different colors for every different idea that you stop the flow of thoughts.

All of these things can be returned to later and explored as writing prompts. Beware of course, that later the original potential will be dissipated. Let go of that with the belief that whatever comes later is what was really supposed to come anyway.
Note that this strategy has to be prefaced with an understanding that even though the onslaught of ideas feels so fantastic and incredible, the result on paper will be puny and insignificant by comparison. Maybe, just maybe, by writing frantically in the midst of a mind explosion, you can experience the whirl wind in a new, more holistic way. Maybe by capturing bits and pieces here and there, you will feel the joy of dancing in a midsummer rainfall. Maybe jumping in with pen and paper will allow you to feel every cell in your body saturated with a creative quiver. Ooh! That sounds electrifying! I think this is a strategy certainly worth exploring!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review: Thinking About Memoir

Book Review by Linda Johnson

Visit Linda’s blog – Various and Sundry Items of Interest

Thinking About Memoir


Abigail Thomas

AARP Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 2008 118 pps 978-1-4027-5235-3

To purchase online, visit: The WriteShop

Abigail Thomas wrote Thinking About Memoir with several hopes in mind. In her preface, she states “Memoir is the story of how we got here from there. I hope this book will inspire different ways to look at the moment you’re in right now, and see how far back it can take you. I hope it will make you admire how surprising life is, and I hope you will write.”

Thinking About Memoir is a small book, probably about 4” x 6”, only 118 pages. It is small enough to slip in a pocket or purse and carry with you. This is good because these small pages are filled with enough prompts and exercises to keep you writing for months, if not years. Thomas wastes no time getting writers started: she introduces an exercise by the third page of Chapter 1. I started marking pages I want to return to—by the time I finished reading, my book bristled with Post-It® Flags!

Thomas agrees with Natalie Goldberg about the futility of trying to approach memory and memoir straight on. Goldberg says we must zig and zag our path through. Thomas says we must approach through a side door. “That’s where the exercises come in.” (pg. 3) We write in response to her prompt. We start with one memory, that memory leads to another, which leads to another, and soon we are surprised at what comes from our pen.

Thomas advises writers to start or keep a daily habit of writing. Keep a notebook with you at all times. Write down anything that catches your attention. Don’t judge whether or not it is important. Just notice.

She doesn’t like the word journal to describe this notebook. She feels that journal would make her feel self-conscious. Instead, she calls it her diary and uses it to collect her daily life. “Everything goes in: grocery lists, things to do (so I can scratch them off) random observations, knitting patterns, recipes, overheard dialogue, everything. A diary isn’t sacred. Think of it as the written equivalent of singing in the shower.” (pg 13)

I differ with her on the naming of your notebook. To me diary sounds restrictive; journal is more open to holding everything. Some people call their notebooks a commonplace book. My friend Sherita calls hers her Blackberry®! What we call it seems unimportant, as long as we write in it every day.

Thomas sets up each chapter with a vignette or anecdote that illustrates her following exercise. A reader can dip into the book anywhere and find a short, complete, interesting entry that will inspire a written response.

The final chapter is More Exercises. Thomas ends the book with eight pages of assignments. So any time a writer is stumped for an idea, he or she can pull out this little book, thumb through the last chapter, and find a side door to try.

This book is little but mighty. Wait! That reminds me of a story my Mom used to tell. In her senior yearbook, that phrase was written as her description. I think I just found an open side door!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Two Writing Contests in March

Anthem Essay Contest

For students in grades 8, 9, and 10.

Write an essay about one of the three choices offered on the website. Word limit is between 600 – 1200 words and the prizes include one first prize of $2,000;
5 Second Prizes for $500; 10 Third Prizes for $200; 45 Finalists for $50; and
175 Semi-Finalists for $30.

Deadline is March 20, 2010.

L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest

Submit science fiction and fantasy pieces up to 17,000 words. The first prize award is for $1,000.00; second prize is $750.00 and third prize is $500.00. All winners will then be judged again for a grand prize winner who will receive an additional $5,000.00.

Deadline is March 31, 2010.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Writing Companions

Writing Companions
(Inspired by Ray Bradbury)

“If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself.”
-- Ray Bradbury --

This quote by Ray Bradbury has been haunting me since I read the first chapter in his book, Zen in the Art of Writing over a month ago. It was the phrase “you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market…” that really got me, I suppose.

I became a commercial market writer because I love to write and I needed to validate that love by creating a way for me to write full time and still be able to pay the bills. Maybe “someday” I’ll be paid for the stuff that bleeds from my soul, but until that ship comes in, I’ve still got to make a living and that is in the commercial market.

Ray Bradbury’s statement haunts me because I’m not really sure I can find the zest and gusto to write much of the stuff that pays the bills. It’s technical, tedious, monotonous, … Ah, but it is never boring. So there’s my first key: because the stuff I write about is, in one way or another, interesting to me, I can maintain a level of energy that allows me to be authentically me.

But it is not that simple. What Bradbury’s statement says to me is a sort of angry reprimand. On the one hand, it is permission to keep “one eye on the commercial market,” on the other, a warning, a command: “don’t you dare put both eyes there!” So I’ve teetered this past month, wondering where that balance is between writing for “them” and writing for me.

I don’t think there is a balance, actually. My commercial market writing is always about “them” and in “them” is me; and the stuff of my souls, well, that’s always about me, a runoff that affects “them.” There is a unifying component here in this place I’ve found, a mental place of buoyancy where I understand myself as a part of a whole. And several things have happened to my writing as I have fiddled around with the ideas that are evolving from Bradbury’s words.

I stopped marking the time of my commercial writing projects to find out how long each assignment takes. Although I do not have the counts of minutes for each job, I am pretty sure that I have picked up speed. At least it seems they are unfolding with more ease anyway without the pressure I was putting on myself by working under a clock.

I have wriggled my way onto a new level of confidence: I know what I’m doing; I know how to do it; and I do it well. My work is worth every penny.

I feel a rhythmic current as I move gracefully between projects. I am not sure why or how, and this one is a bit difficult to articulate, but it seems easier to walk away from something that isn’t working, or that is making me weary, and come back to it later. I move on to something else, then something else, then back. Seeing several different projects in front of me at one time is not overwhelming as it once was. Instead it is more like a spread of options and it doesn’t really matter which one I choose, because they aren’t going anywhere; they are all mine.

In the ebb and flow of moving between assignments, I have discovered spaces for my personal creative projects and chunks of time for soul dancing in my journal. I have returned to my Japanese Bath Tub Stories and am fueled by the cheers of my writing friends who will wait patiently for the arrival of eternity, but really want me to get on with it.

Zest, Gusto, Love, and Fun.
Yes, Mr. Bradbury, these are my writing companions!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mind Explosions

I wake up and while my body is stiff and slow, awkward and cumbersome, my mind is gazelle-like swift and agile. It’s not necessarily good, just rich with thoughts, ideas, and sophisticated language. It races from one thought to another though, so it is difficult for me to harness and develop any one thought into a creative masterpiece. It is great stuff I find flying all around me, but it evades me. These incredible lightening bugs of the mind are like a rock skipping over the smooth surface of a motionless lake. And diving for it later to find where it landed is always futile. This morning explosion of the mind feels like a gift has been given to me, then snatched away before I can claim it.

No, no, no. That is victim talk and I refuse to dance with the devil. Let me re-center my thinking and take a different perspective:

The gift is already mine; I just have to figure out how to open it.

Ah! I see, what I am really facing then is an opportunity to work through a lesson and master a skill…. Yes! And the lesson smacks me directly in the face bringing me to full conscious attention: it’s all about focus, self control, and discipline. Ugh. These things are threatening and nasty little irritants to my spirit that is ever lustfully passionate about its freedom. There is some logic that fuels the fear that if I genuinely focus on one inspiration, all the others will flitter away like milk weed seeds in an autumn breeze. I do indeed believe they will as they always have.

So I have to ask myself, what does it matter if 99 slip away so long as I capture one? The alternative is to capture none and that of course, sends me spiraling downward into defeat and despair, a place that is very similar to being stuck in a snow drift. No, no, not going there… then I have to consider capturing one inspiration and indulging in its potential!

Later in the day, when my mind is more dull to creativity and more sharp to practical conclusions, I will ask myself, how can I harness my mind?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Who's the "Stewie" in Your Life?

Thank you to Megan from Writerland for posting this video. It is funny, and well, yes, true.

Watching this video made me realize that we all have a "Stewie" in our lives and so I hope we can find the relief in comic relief and know that 1) we are not alone; and 2) this sort of chiding is just what comes with the life of writing.

Keep writing!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Online Exposure: Article Directories

Article Directories are online sites that have a stock load of articles about every topic imaginable and then some more. They serve two main purposes that are two-way benefits for writers. First of all, the articles in article directories are (for the most part) well researched and well written. So when you need some information about something you are writing about, you can usually find it through an online article directory site. They serve as a resource for your writing. Secondly, article directories offer an excellent source for you to get published online and build up an online portfolio. In addition, if you have a blog or website, you can link directly to it from your article. This is like free advertising for your site(s).

Like everything else online, the greater volume you produce, the better results you receive. Don’t let the idea of volume overwhelm you though, because even one article is a start. Start with one article an add another. Keep at it and you will become more comfortable with the writing and publishing online process and more familiar with the various article directory sites. Keep at it and before you know it, you will have a nice collection of articles under your name.

At the time of this writing, there are over 560 article directories on the internet. No doubt that number is steadily increasing. For a comprehensive list of article directories, go to Top 50 Article Directories. From this link, simply click on several article directories and browse around. Find out which ones you like as a reader. Check out the search engines – type in several key words for each article directory you visit and read through some of the articles that show up. Note if there are a lot of articles available for the key words you put in; note also the quality of those articles. Are they informative and well written? Are there sources you can follow for more information? Take notes, then choose a couple of article directories you like and submit your own articles there to see how you like them as a writer.

One of the things about online article writing is that technically, you can write one basic article and then tailor it several different ways so you end up with a lot of articles for the effort it takes to write just one. That way, you can submit to several different article directories each time you write an article. You just have to be sure that each article is different enough that it doesn’t cause a red flag for the plagiarism control. Some writers “spin” their articles. There is spinning software that allows you to put in your basic article and then it spits out a new one – same meaning, different words. In theory, you can spin an article over and over. I only tried this once through some site that offered free spinning, but I didn’t like the result, so I haven’t tried it again. I think that it might be worth spending some time with, but I haven’t returned to that task yet. If anyone out there has more knowledge and better experience with spinning, I welcome your comments and feedback.

The two article directories that I use are Ezine Articles and I think that is a bit more user friendly, so I tend to use that one the most.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. Maybe you will like other article directories and you can recommend them to me. Together we can explore different article directories and increase all of our online exposure.

Editing: Expand

Sometimes we write out all we have to say and yet, it falls flat. There are several possible reasons for this, a major one being passion (or a lack of it), but first let’s just consider clarity and how you can expand your writing to make it come alive. (I think I’ll talk about passion in a separate blog.)

In this discussion on editing, we are going to play with strategies for expansion.

Description plays a major role in writing. You want your readers to experience something, not sit in a lecture hall and be told something. So as you write, you need to place yourself in the setting and experience it for the first time. As you actually experience the message in your writing, it will flow out of your mind and onto the paper so that your readers can also journey along with you.

I think that description is the first place to look at a piece of writing that you want to expand. So let’s start there.

Take a piece of writing you have already created and start by noting the word count. Our goal will be to double that. 1500 words is a good size for this activity.

Now, take a colored pen and circle all the nouns. Take another colored pen and circle all the verbs. With a third color, make notes in the margins to identify noun-like phrases and whole pieces of action.

Begin working through your piece taking one noun or noun phrase at a time and analyzing its presentation. Consider all the senses: Can you see it clearly? What sounds does it make or conjure up in your mind? What sort of smell would make it more vivid? Even inanimate objects have aspects that ignite feelings and emotions. Tap into those feelings. Taste is a difficult one, but can certainly be associated with even unlikely nouns. For example, disgust or deceit may be described as “bitter”. Then take that a step further – does the deceit of a lover cause a hot belch to explode in the back of the throat leaving the bitter taste of bile on the tongue?

Don’t hold back with the words and images that come to mind for fear of being disgusting or shocking or whatever. Instead, play with exaggerations as you bring each of your nouns to life. Be corny or silly; be horrifyingly shocking. It’s all OK, even necessary, as you trust your talent to breathe life into your work.

After you have gone through the nouns, do the same with the verbs. Add adjectives and adverbs before them; add more sentences full of more verbs that work like arrows pointing to the main action creating a choreography of movement in your scene. Even if it is a quiet, still scene you want to create, there are a thousand plus more ways to describe that.

Next, rework the whole piece adding and changing, expanding images and actions. Count the words and see if you doubled the count. Did you add even more than that? Then sit on it for a week before you reread it.

A week later, get comfortable and read your new work. Isn’t it fantastic!?