Monday, March 31, 2008

Shoulding Myself

I've been trying different things. Approaching the writing from other directions. That is the point with writing exercises. The beauty of the freewrite to let your intuition rule in what you write next. And you get to discover things that you never expected. And it has been said that there is surprising wisdom in my intuition but I rarely let myself be enough to catch it. Natalie Goldberg calls it a first thought that gets buried under a second or third thought.

The point of doing writing practice is that I do it whether it gets me somewhere or not. Difficult to do. Especially for me as I am always trying to get somewhere and I am always convinced that one thing or the other is going to provide the route. But I guess the other hand of that is that I'm good at making vows to myself. And if I make them I keep them.

I am undecided today. Not new news. I am not sure which way I am going. I know I should just let myself be. I can't accept it. I think I must take the best route, the most efficient, the most likely to pay dividends. I'm guessing that's the problem. It's a core value. There shall be no goofing off. But so much of creativity requires the goofing off. That is the crux of my struggle.

Here's a question: What is your approach when you scrub the shower? Do you lock yourself in the bathroom, clean it while you are naked, and allow yourself the very first clean shower? Or do you take the last dirty shower and then clean it for the next person? Either way are you finagling efficiency out of the deal. Thinking and planning how to approach the clean shower. Combining two tasks into one and not getting any of your clothing wet in the process. Naked or not, there is no spontaneity in it. This is what I'm talking about.

As Always,

Writing Exercise:
Interview your eight year old self. Ask her what she would like you to do today. Make a list of things she would like to get done. Do your best to have a conversation. She's interesting and you don't get to talk to her very often.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

plunging in

I have been doing yoga for years. I can count them. Four and a half years. By now I'm pretty strong. Through the years different areas of my body have required attention. One are has been tense and sore and then I will pass that, move on to the next area. It started with ankles and tops of my feet. Next wrists and then shoulders. On to arms, triceps. Upper hip--by my hip bones. Now it is outer glutes. My body has changed a ton. I always had aspirations to be like Linda Hamilton in The Terminator. I'm not like her even now, but I'm strong. Anyway. Today I was doing crow posture. Poised on only my hands, bending my arms at the elbow, balancing with my knees at my arm pits. It's a weird posture that, you would think, requires a lot of arm and wrist strength. Which it does. But once you have that (it comes very quickly if you do yoga regularly) then it requires much more core muscle strength. And you can feel it as you begin to balance there. My solar plexus gather all together into a knot of energy. I have the strength I need. I can feel it as I curl around myself, poised. I balance, the very tip of one toe barely touching the ground. I can't quite make that mental leap to pull it all the way up. That is all that is left. The one thing. That transition from knowing that I am strong enough to trusting that I am strong enough.

I've never been very comfortable with transitions. I have never been very skilled at that final leap of faith. Like plunging into a freezing cold lake. Or immersing myself in a hot shower. Or dropping into flow. I've been trying to mind those gaps. Place my attention and my effort there.

As Always,

Writing Exercise:
Write about something you hate. Write about it with feeling. Put the timer on for ten minutes and don't stop for anything. Now switch it around and pretend you love it. Writing with feeling. Spend ten minutes at it. Now how did it feel? What are you grateful for?

Friday, March 28, 2008

writng and the herb garden

Today the kids are home from school. Although it is quiet in the house because they are out and about. At any moment I have to be prepared for muddy hungry kids to come rolling in the door. That gets me straight to writing in flow. Which is not what I am doing right now. Because I want to make a sidetrack into this delicious and weird salad that I made last night. I loved it so much that I wanted to eat all of it, but luckily I did not because today after my run there was still some left over and I got to eat it again. Do you want to hear what was in it? Okay I will tell you, and I will also tell you that it was inspired by my friend Jenny Breen, Cook and Teacher extraordinaire, she and my stepfather are the people who have had the most influence on my cooking life and are true artists when it comes to food. She made a salad involving potatoes, tofu, avocado, and sesame oils and I couldn't get the flavors and textures out of my head. That was in January. Over time, I have added beats, roasted, and the sweetness with the other things is fabulous. And I added raw red cabbage. The crunchiness is delicious and I just love cabbage. And I put it on spinach--kind of wilting it all in the process. But the reason this is all so thrilling is just the process of it all. Feeding it to Josh and having him say it was quite a salad not in a Minnesota kind of way but in a "this is a whole meal onto itself and I find this crazy dishes satisfying even though I was bummed when you said you were making a salad for dinner." So this whole idea of writing in flow and cooking in flow is interesting for me. The idea that getting into flow is more of an attitude and an openness as it is with all other things we do. The idea is not new to me but the feeling it is. It's an orientation to the work that I hadn't considered. Does that make any sense?

Can I easily transfer that feeling with the novel? I think I can. Between that and accepting the fear--as in vacuum cleaning--see yesterday's post. I have it made. Well and finally accepting some of the loss that letting go of half of my ideas. And that is another comparison to the way I cook. I have a million delicious herbs in my garden. But when I cook with them I have to choose the one direction. Even though I love them all. I have not found the dish where I use mint and sage together. But mint goes with basil and cilantro and parsley and strawberries. But maybe not all at the same time. Now the sage it can go with the parsley and tomatoes and mushrooms (I have not yet got mushrooms to grow in my garden but I am trying.) I have to find my thread with cooking and give up those other plants. Not for ever but just for this one meal. And I can feel sad. In fact perhaps I should feel sad, it only makes sense. Because they are all brilliant herb (read ideas) that I'm excited about. Perhaps disappointed more than sad. Now I must go. I did not intend to prattle on like this. Too much to do and so little time. Are we warmed up?

As Always,

Writing Exercise:
Make up a crazy Salad. Or have your character do it. What are her favorite foods? Now have her mix them together.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


I once wrote a lot about vacuuming. Although back when I was writing about it, vacuuming and writing were about neck and neck in the amount of time I spent on them. The draw to vacuuming was because of the metaphor it serves in my life. The literal sucking away of the accumulated dust. Not only does the debris accumulate beneath my refrigerator and between the cushions of the couch but in the corners of my mind. The ideas and thoughts begin to pile up and I need to clear them away.

I did some vacuuming today. Literal vacuuming. At this point in my life writing is winning over vacuuming. I spend much more time doing it and as a consequence there are many less cobwebs in my mind then there are in my house. I did the couch cushions today and I found my son's wallet with his library card in it. It had been missing for a two years. It has not been that long since I vacuumed, but shall I say I did a very thorough job today. I've missed that wallet the past few times I have vacuumed the couch. My housekeeping habits are at the bare minimum lately. But my habits of thoughts kind of go on and on.(as anyone who reads this blog is a witness). I wonder what I'm missing when I do my writing sweep everyday. I have been wondering if I am trying too hard.

When I was little, I used to dream of vacuuming and feel the weight as I pushed that handle and slid the beaters across the floor. I could feel the vibration and I could watch myself from way above me. I was above myself but also I had grown large. The wind from the vacuum moved through me. I was a huge echoing chamber. Without contact to the world. Too large to move through any door. I was so big that people around me couldn't notice me. It scared me. It was a recurring nightmare of a dream. But, there are times, like now, that I wonder about it. To me, now, it sounds a lot like flow. I wonder how that young girl that was me could have felt it and how she came to fear it. And why on earth is it correlated to vacuuming.

As Always(confused),

Writing Exercise: Write concretely about an everyday chore.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I wish I knew how to take the same attitude with writing as I do with cooking. On the days that I am not inspired with cooking I can feel the difference. I can feel that something is off. There are too many disparate parts of the meal competing for attention. Perhaps I am worried how to please others. Perhaps I have too many vegetables to use up.

Sometimes I can gather my forces and narrow my focus and rally the meal. It feels like I pull myself into some sort of center. Gather psychic energy into my solar plexus. I become some kind of cooking super human. But other times I stay unfocused and it never quite comes together. But it's a feeling. A feeling that I have a better handle on in cooking then in writing.

But this cooking hero I have become developed over time. It has involved gathering psychic energy. Tuning out all the complicating stimuli and learning to take pleasure in my own competency and take joy in experimenting. I never wanted to have these crazy powers, it just fell to me over and over again and when you watch the world crumbling at your feet day after day you have to answer the call. Accept that feeding is the bitter truth of being a parent, and even if it requires a quick change in the phone booth, the job can either be done with grace or a lot of resistance. My superhuman strength there is really acceptance.

So, clearly, with writing, I want to save the world. But do I have to accept that I'm no super hero? Or do I have to accept that the battle will be hard? I just can't see the answer. I don't know what to accept.

When I'm not feeling it, when my head isn't quite in there, can I learn to adjust my attitude? Adjust my focal point and narrow my view so that the writing comes as freely as inspiration in the kitchen. (Just so you know--I am not making French dinners here--we're talking beets and black beans.)

Can I learn to recognize the feeling as well in writing? Because that's the big difference. Cooking is no longer buried under the layers of myself. But writing still is. Will there ever be a point where it is not?

These insecurities are why I write everyday. I do it because it is what I do. I write words. I've come to depend on them.

As Always (writing),


Writing Exercise:

How about a Koan?

Life as a Pig

One day, a old master had a vision of his next life. He immediately called in his favorite disciple and begged a favor of him.

"Anything for you master." the disciple replied.

"In my next life, I will come back as a pig. Soon after I die, our sow will give birth and I will be the fourth pig of the litter. You will recognize me by a mark on my brow. When that happens, please take a sharp knife and end my life quickly."

Within the year, the master passed away and the sow gave birth. The disciple sharpened his knife and found the small piglet. Suddenly the little pig screamed "Stop! Don't kill me!"

The disciple dropped his knife in surprise and stared at the little pig. "When I was like you I didn't know what a pig's life would be like. It's great. Just let me go."

Read it and freewrite about it. What comes up? Feel it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Writing in Ratio

I used to work at the Minneapolis Crisis Nursery. Many years ago. It provides shelter care for children ages 0 to 6 years old. I began as a childcare provider and eventually I supervised. The ratio was 3 children to 1 adult. During daytime hours volunteers were part of the equation. Because of wildly different needs of those ages, the whole day was a sort of balancing act. Always calculating the dynamics, the numbers, the space. We had the multi-purpose room for infants and toddlers. The gym for running around. We had the cafeteria for eating and a sleeping wing with a myriad of different arrangements. And then there were the different employees. There were baby holders and nose wipers. Straight up nurturers, there were the gross-muscle nurturers. The pragmatists and the softies. The kids also were different—some needed a one-on-one caregiver. Some needed a lice treatment. Some needed extra rocking. Some were hilarious. It required certain creativity, attention to detail and constant math to balance out numerous kids with their rightful amount of adults.

The work was not so different than writing. The constant organization in my head of time, need, and nurturance. My husband and three children( I include my prose as a child) are the main orbiting objects. All of us have varied and sundry needs to fulfill and the kids still require that one adult in ratio. At the nursery the days felt busy. They hit me with a violence of necessity. There was a concrete-ness to the space and time realities. This writing life is a little more ephemeral and as a result insidious. My brain revolves around itself all of the time. I have no wisdom around this. Let’s just hope I have perspective.

For years I dreaded feeding my family until just recently I discovered how to enjoy it. I started to teach myself to cook and see it as a challenge and experiment with it. I start with an ingredient and make a meal around it. And now it is my one unencumbered art form. I cook and make bounties of food for everyone to eat. I look forward to it. I chop. I wash. I sauté. And the time I spend is immaterial. I don’t dread any part of it. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out and I can just shrug it off. And I have no more aspirations than to cook for the people I love.

Cooking is a lot like writing practice. Perhaps I can find wisdom there.

As Always,

Writing Exercise:
Look over your lies (or truths) from yesterday. Find a part of it that resonates and write down some more. Have fun with it. Make up even better lies than before. Add details. Concrete and sensory. Write until you have all the necessary ingredients for a whole meal.

Monday, March 24, 2008

I'm brilliant.

Okay. Where to begin?

I have been trying so hard. Do I feel a low because nothing has changed? Is it the lull before the storm? Remember there always the low before the big creative rush. I have been bored with myself. What happens next? One word comes and then the next. I know I am close. My novel is brilliant at least in the visionary sense. But I have to mold it using words and form it into something that already exists in my head. And I’m so impatient. And I am not sure that I can do it.

What is the difference between pushing yourself just enough or pushing yourself way too much?

When I started writing practice I was a writer who didn’t write anything. I had this disease where I would start working and immediately get bored. The trick with writing practice is to write through all the discomfort. I started to sit down and write through the garbage. I gave myself a quota of so many pages. And just as in a sitting meditation I would notice the discomfort and keep going. Now there is comfort in writing. The writing reinforces itself, saves me from bad habits, gives me a course of action instead. More often than not I can discover the root of the discomfort if I write about it. I used to be at the mercy of my unfathomable moods.

After writing through the boredom for long enough, something else happens. I get tired. All of a sudden I am so tired, I can't keep my eyes open. Later I would be taken over by pangs of anxiety. All manifestations of my mind to get me to quit.

I ask: Why did my mind want me to stop so badly?

I decide: It is the baggage beneath it all. Ideas about writing and being a writer.

I lull myself with the questions: What kind of work is valuable anyway? In what way does this work contribute to my household? Who wants to read what I have to say anyway? Just further manifestations of the same mirage.

And so it’s been more than two years. How has my life changed?

I write all the time. The words come fleetly (most of the time). And the words have formed themselves into a book. The words prime the pump and more and more come. My thinking is clearer. I am generally more productive. I don’t have as many hazy worthless days. I enjoy the writing.

Today when I sat down, I was bored. You could watch the feeling come. Hints in the writing here and there. Worry about the boredom of others. Impatience. Time to make it good. Wanting it to tell the work what it wants. Like the hand of god coming down to set me straight.

Time for good enough writing. Time for me and the imaginary people that reside there. And perhaps time for the rest of my life too.

How come I have to remind myself over and over again?

As Always,

Writing Exercise:
Write, but don’t get anything done today. Write for its own sake.

Take a page, two pages, three perhaps and write to yourself about how brilliant you are. Lie to yourself if you don't yet believe it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Not knowing

So I try to do this everyday. That is what writing practice is all about. Sit your but down and do it. But I wonder if I exhaust everyone trying to read me. Perhaps one of you thinks—oh no Tina is blogging again. I should perhaps make people wait longer. Maybe in between they may wish for more. If only Tina would give me a writing exercise. Maybe then there would be more of a demand for me. But that is not the point. This is my writing practice. Everyday I sit here and type out my blog. This is my mindfulness practice. I am dedicated to this. This is what I do. This is the work.

I got feedback today about slowing down. That I should linger in some of the things happening on my first page. I think my rush through the prose does not come from such a different place than the worrying that I’m exhausting people with my endless posting. “Okay, already," the reader taps her toes and checks her watch.

I have been very stuck on what the reader is thinking and feeling and what I don’t know about it. But I think my thoughts are in that place because that is the part of the process I am at. I still need to flip the brain over to the creative side but yet I have to consider how it is working on someone else. Doesn't that require the critical brain? I have the story. Everything is there. I know these people and what motivates them. I just need to craft it for the reader. I wish the story would tell me what it wants. But I'm afraid that I have to decide. First person or third person. Plot and conflict. How much does the reader need to know on the first page? And eventually language. That has go to be last. What does this have to do with writing practice?

Sit down and do it. That is my practice: these thoughts. Each step along the way is the confusion and insecurity. It is all part of the writers problem. When to flip the brain from where the ideas keep coming to the one where we’re crafting something that hits someone in the gut. Or is this all part of the same thing.

The words today jerk on the line like hooked muskellunge. They are tugging and pulling and there is no flow. I have come to find that I must accept that, as I have to accept my tendency to rush through the things that I’m not sure anyone wants to hear. And I have practiced long enough that I know that means there’s something beneath the surface. Could it be an enormous sturgeon? When it comes, I will accept it too.

As always,

Writing Exercise:
Write without editing and work on noticing your thoughts (right now my son is bouncing through the house on an exercise ball and my daughter is asking me how to spell birthday and I am noticing that I feel frustrated). Accept it as it comes out, with all the misspellings and awkward words. Messy and out of order, half formed, and undeveloped. Accept them for what they are and keep writing. The work is what matters.

Friday, March 21, 2008

the thought and its thinker

Usually I try to direct myself before I get started here. Today I am starting a little differently because I don’t know where I am going I just have this feeling. It began with a thought, of course, but I can’t pinpoint what one. My mind has long since hid it away. Most brains do that. As you learn about your brain these thought become more transparent. Or I guess I like the onion metaphor. With each insight into your self, you peel away another layer of the onion and move closer to some more base center, where the thought happens and the layers of action and reaction aren’t so many. But a thought is still a flash in the pan and if you didn’t notice it when it happened, all of a sudden it is just gone and you are left with the feeling in the pit of your stomach and, for me, a mind grasping for what it is that makes me feel this way. Really the feeling and the original thought don’t matter. Just feel it and move on. It’s the grasping that is the trouble.

I have watched my mind long enough that I see what the grasping does. It keeps me up at night. My mind reaches out. Looking for the thing that makes me this way. My brain will search until it finds something, running its hands over my memories, past actions until it finds what I did or said that warrants regretful feelings. And it is not necessarily the original thing that set me off, it is just a thing that works in its place. You can see where this circle can be kind of endless and painful.

And I think I know where today's feeling started. I have come to realize my attachments that I have to my own words as I have been trying to figure out this POV thing. I’m not saying that I shouldn’t love my words. I should love the plethora of them. I do love the habit of them, the comfort and fun and challenge I feel when working with them. It’s just the attachments to particular pieces and particular phrases blind me. I can’t see what they are doing because I want them to be like my imagination of them. To hold a readers interest with some skill requires picking and choosing, receiving feedback, and hearing it when it is given, and being grateful for honesty. And that is where my embarrassment started, at the thinking that my words were so great that I didn’t see the problems in them. I haven’t even heard that the words aren’t great. That is the silly thing. I’m just anticipating it. But in the week since I wrote them I have learned a lot. And I now think I know what I’m doing. At least I know a little more than I did before. So I am going to feel the embarrassment, and realize it makes sense that I am embarrassed. I don’t want people to know that I don’t know what I am doing. And get back to work, because in the end, it is the work that is important.

As Always (even better),

Writing Exercise:
This is a Natalie Goldberg exercise. Do some freewriting. Start with the phrase “I think” and continue from there. When you get stuck return to the phrase and start over. If you cant think of anything repeat the phrase over and over again until something occurs to you. Do this for a good long time. And then turn the phrase on its head, freewrite again starting with the phrase “I do not think…” Repeat.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

mind the relationship

I’ve been reading books. How-to books on writing. That is what I do when I get stuck. I either read writing books or I voraciously read other people’s fiction. When I read other people it is blindly and instinctively. Part of me seems to know what I want, I seek those books out and I read and keep reading until inexplicably I am done. I’m never quite sure what I have found but the writing starts again and I am off.

This time I am going the other way. Right now I have been reading Janet Burroway’s classic Writing Fiction. I’ve read the sections on point of view and authorial distance. I don’t actually discover how to do things from it. It’s more that I recognize what I am trying to do. Today for example, I read that there shouldn’t be distance in the relationship between the author’s attitude and the reader’s attitude, but it is okay to have distance between the narrator and character, author and character, author and reader, in other words, all other relationships. Now this may not seem important and even as I write it down, I wonder if it is. But there is this one character in my book who means well but is totally inappropriate and then there is the character that I think is cool and brilliant and then of course there is the main character who is totally broken and odd but I am really sympathetic. I have my attitude toward each of them and I have for the most part figured out how I will portray them. The deciding factor would be can I portray them when the broken odd girl narrates the book. Will the irony be as effective? The irony and surrealism (that’s not exactly the right term—oh, well).

I hadn’t completely thought about how I have an authorial relationship to each of these individual characters along with my relationship to the reader (I have been more focused on the reader). Distance came up in my critiques at the Big Sur Writer’s Workshop. That was the reason to try first person. Here’s a question: Somehow can I work the reader’s craving for closeness into the plot? How do I get a reader to accept that sort of thing?

As Always (getting excited now),

Writing Exercise:
Do some relationship counseling. What do you think of your characters? What does your narrator think of everyone else? You could do this formally and hire a psychotherapist (you know, in the book) to have a group meeting with everyone. Perhaps do a little one on one with that same psychotherapist. Or you could use a tool like an intake form. Ask your characters to fill it out. Perhaps try to make some sort of visual document of relationships, not unlike a family tree. Play with this. The goal is to have some insight into how the dynamics of this whole novel play out.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Get Rid of the Clutter

I have a hard time getting rid of stuff. Like furniture. Perfectly useful furniture. Or pieces of fabric that I love. When I finish this novel, will I really make a duvet cover from all that lovely stuff? And my prose. It too is beautiful. You know, the idea of it anyway. Can you tell that I’m still mulling over my first person-third person shift in narrator? What I will have to give up to go there? I give up some of the magical-ness for a closeness to the main character. The first person will work better with some logistical stuff, but not all the logistical stuff. I sent my revision out to one of my Big Sur Workshop groups and waited for them to do the work for me. I thought it would be so easy. Have them make the decision for me. But the decision falls back on me. It is a test. Now is my time to either pass it or fail.

I have an undecided personality. That’s why I throw everything into the novel in the first place. That’s how come I come to these hard decisions of having to narrow my view. Decide how to focus myself and then through that perspective see my story in its best light. But the process through the unknowing is unbearable for me. That’s an exaggeration, but it is hard. My Uncle Dan, who hates being unsure, is on the other side of that particular personality characteristic. He says that he never knows which way is actually the right way to do it. He just decides and does it, right or wrong he gets it done with out worrying over it as I do. As I am right now. And that, right there, is reassuring. Maybe other people don’t really know either and they just go along and get the things done that they have to get done. Anyway I keep thinking if I clear out the garage. If I go in there and get to work throwing all that unnecessary stuff away, will that be enough of a real life metaphor to get my novel life moving? Does an action in one area, elicit action in another? Or is it procrastination? And I realize even at this point the thinking about it is the procrastination and I should just do it. Work on it either way or both ways for awhile. The clarity will come. I had just expected it to come before now.

As Always(perhaps just a little less sure),

Writing Exercise:
Time to focus on the work. The work is enough. The act of sitting down with the characters and learning to love them more is enough to keep the project moving. Time for another koen.

Hoca borrowed a large pot from his neighbor. Days and weeks went by and he did not return the pot. One day the neighbor stopped by and asked if he could have his pot back. Hoca apologized, "I am sorry, I forgot to return it. But I have good news for you, while in my possession your pot gave birth to a smaller pot".

So, he sent the happy neighbor home with two pots. Few weeks later Hoca knocked at his neighbor's door and asked if he could again borrow that large pot. The neighbor, after his recent gainful experience, was more than happy to lend his pot to Hoca. When days and weeks went by without a word from Hoca about the pot, the neighbor decided that he'd better go and see about his pot.

When Hoca opened the door, the neighbor asked if he could have his pot back. Hoca with a very sad face informed the man that while in his possession, the large pot passed away. Shocked by Hoca's audacity, the man got angry and said: "What do you think I am, an idiot to believe that the pot died?"

"Why my good man" replied Hoca with a smile, "You had no trouble believing that your pot gave birth?"

I selected this randomly and it seems like a useful one for me. Read it twice. Out loud if you can. Then write about it. Go wherever your thoughts go. Bring your thoughts purposefully to your project and apply it to your characters. The time and the energy of writing is enough. That is where the work is.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Warm up.

Time to warm up. Stretch limbs. Run in place. Put the words down one after the other. The practice of writing. What is my head full of today? What can I purge from it right now?

I had a woman show me octopus eggs this morning. She carried them in a square clear container. They were little tick-tacks floating in the bottom, clear with a black spot at the center. She proceeded to tell me a story about how her son was having difficulty learning to read. As motivation she told him he could get an octopus. She had the tank all ready because he met his goal. (Can you believe!) she then she found one on the beach in Florida. The size of an egg (chicken, I presume) with legs 25 inches long. “She’s beautiful,” she said. The octopus, after having ridden in a bucket in the back of a truck to the very center of the continent, laid her eggs (the woman actually told me she gave birth) (I have no idea whether either of those phrases is right for an octopus). In any case, she told me this story, the words flying out of her at a breakneck speed. She also told me she had a kindergartner and a second grader and a fourth grader. That people have been lining up at her door to see the octopus. That she called a news station to see if they wanted to do a story about her. The woman who answered the phone said, “What is news worthy about that?” And she told a pet store that they better decide whether they will sell the octopus eggs because once she announced it on the news, there will be kids lining up to buy them. And she also told me that the octopus recognizes her and would be freaked out if a bunch of kids surrounded her tank.

Now, I have a lot of questions about this whole thing. But I guess the main thing that applies to a writing warm up is the disorganized way that all this information came to me. Pre-writing is the answer. It gives yourself the opportunity to see the words on the page, the opportunity to palpitate your own mind and see what is there. Over time, as you do this every single day, you find that what comes out becomes clearer and more concise. That the clutter has been cleared away and the mind just needs a fifteen minute sweeping and its ready to face the more serious, or at least more directed work of the novel. Now I’m warmed up and ready to go.

As Always,

Writing Exercise:
Good old-fashioned freewrite. Put your pen to the page or fingers to the keys for at least ten minutes. Write everything that comes to you. Don’t stop to check spelling or to cross out. If you think what you wrote is stupid, write that down too. Write all thoughts. It is a thought watching exercise. If your mind says it is stupid and you keep writing anyway, eventually your mind will stop making that thought. Something ignored will soon enough go away. And I say good riddance to that kind of rubbish.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Still Waiting

Good enough writing. That is what I have to practice. I have these mistaken ideas that the work will tell me what is right. That my intuition will kick in and I will know exactly what I am doing. Sometimes I do have an instinct about things. But often my instincts get buried under all the thinking I do about the writing. I want to do so many things at once that I try to do it all and get blinded by my very own thoughts. A case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. And then I begin to see the worrying and the thoughts themselves as necessary. And then I’m fussing and not getting down to business, what I am is just making funny-business for myself. So enough of this, now I must write.

As always,

Writing Assignment: Face it, what are you putting off? What are you not doing? What hangs over your head? Whatever reason you think you are not doing something may not exactly be the real reason that you are not doing something. You may think your not writing that part of your novel because you have to hurry and get your blog out. What is really going to happen if you start working and don’t do your blog now?

Spend the time you have right now. Whatever time it is, no matter how long you have, no matter what other things you think you may need to get done and work on the thing you have been putting off. No time to lose.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Writing the Contrast

Garrison Keillor has an op-ed in the paper today (“They’re nothing if not connected” Star-Tribune March 16, 2008). He wrote about the young generation he watched in a coffee shop in San Francisco. Using all their various media to communicate with each other wildly as if the their multi-tasking messages reach out from them like the rays of the sun, washing the world with brightness. He’s willing to put himself at the center of it without judging it. Type, type, typing his novel. The epitome of living within, burying yourself in the world of within. A world that is complete, confusing, interesting and complicated, while an equally interesting world revolves around you. He allows these loud and open, communicative kids to bolster himself somehow, and contrasts their young, California lightness with his Minnesota, late winter heaviness. I don’t know if I am explaining what this all means to me. The impressions fell on me as if the sky was falling and now I try to sort them on to the page.

It is the contrast that he used in that piece that so appealed to me. As I consider my rewrite from third person to first person. Can I pull off a contrast like Garrison Keillor has, when my novel is in first person? In the third person it seems that it will be easier to convince the reader that there is some magical element. One that makes this world real and yet not real. The reality of hardship can be set off by qualities that make the characters and situations odd, even fantastic. But what if the first person narrator relays all this stuff? Can it still be magical? Or will it just make her seem crazy? Or at least emotionally disturbed? Unreliable?

This is where I remind myself that everything is disposable. The words themselves are a dime a dozen, even the ideas are only worth that. Throw myself into it and try it. The worst that can happen is I know my girl and her motivations better. The best is I will discover how it works and the picture of the whole project that I have in my head will get clearer, not only to me. I can picture it. I can see what I want for this book, in all its wholeness. To get there I have to do the little things along the way. For now I have a rough draft. Some of it more polished than the rest. I got some feed back and now my job is to float in between my dream of it and how to create the dream for someone else. That is my goal anyway. The buck does not just stop here. My job is to keep taking the little steps that can make this book into the picture and focus myself back here on the words that come one after the other they will eventually build themselves into a whole. And as the wind feels as if it is blowing through me, the ideas being swept out in a big swirling eddy of leaves and debris, focus myself and write, write, write.


Writing Assignment:
Thoughts can sometimes derail any project. Worrying too much about the end product, discouragement as the result of unexpected feedback, the normal ebbs of process. Try this.

Do some art. Pick up old magazines, newspapers. Grab your kid's crayons and think about your project. What does it look like? Imagine it and now try to represent it visually. Use glue and make a collage. Draw it. Let yourself go. If something triggers words go for them. Approach it from a different direction. The point is to change the energy. Keep your attention focused on what is directly in front of you.

Friday, March 14, 2008

koan practice

This is a blog dedicated to writing practice. Not only will I provide writing exercises, but I am giving myself the opportunity to practice just by the act of doing it everyday. I was practicing anyway, but to be honest, I was not completely focused about it. In fact I was often allowing myself to write gibberish, repeat myself over and over, or sometimes get lost in space. All of which is okay. Whatever you have to do to get yourself to the page. Remember no word is precious there are and should be plenty more where that one came from. But what I have to practice now (besides not getting too attached as per yesterday's blog) (and just plain writing) is honing my focus. Focusing on the writing, something in the writing, and perhaps even an audience. 

For a while last year when I woke up and began my writing practice I would start just getting the crap out and then I would read a koan from a book I have (The Song of the Bird by Anthony De Mello). When I started I didn’t know what it would do. I just thought it would put something in so I could get something out. I was experimenting with practice and as a mindfulness exercise it seems like a good thing. The amazing thing that happened is different aspects of my novel began to be released in the writing. I would be musing on the whole thing with my pen and all of a sudden my character would be talking to me, making some connection between him and another character in the book. It felt like a flowering. I began to be excited everyday to see who would speak to me next. And even with expecting it and hoping for it something surprising would come out of it. A gentle aspect of the bad guy. Or anger that I didn’t realize my main character felt. I should go back to doing that. Or perhaps I should just continue blogging because I really had no plan to get to koans when I sat down here. (I should watch out for all those shoulds is what I should do). One of the best things about wring is what an adventure it always is. It is an adventure that takes place in your own mind.

As Always,

Writing Exercise:
Here is a koan. Read it twice. Out loud if possible.

One day as Manjusri stood outside the gate, the Buddha called to him, "Manjusri, Manjusri, why do you not enter?" Manjusri replied, "I do not see myself as outside. Why enter?"

Now write. Consider the koan in your writing. Keep at it even beyond where you think there is anything to explore. Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t relate to you or your project. It is just a place to focus your psychic energy as you write. It is a practice.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I am not my most reliable reader.

I got to show the first chapters of my novel to 21 different readers at the Big Sur Writer's Conference. I heard a lot about what didn't work. I had to face what was not coming across, mainly who was not coming across. There were dissenting views too. People who might have really thought that a narrator was clever (that's why I like her too) but she wasn't working as she stood. They agreed the ideas were clever but I wasn't creating the "dream."


Writing Assignment:
Find a thing that you love in your project, certain wording, an image, and idea, a character and then set it free. Send it out on the wind like broadcasting seeds on the prairie. If it really was yours, if it really was beautiful, it will bloom in another way, maybe even in greater number. This is a hard one.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

First Post

So as an exercise I am going to begin a blog. A blog about writing practice.

I just returned from the Big Sur Writer's Workshop, got a lot of really helpful feedback (thanks, everybody), including "kill my darlings," a lessen you would think I learned long ago. It is hard for any project. So I am going to begin my novel again in 1st person.

The workshop was an amazing experience. It was an exhausting amount of feedback, the schedule a bit grueling, accompanied by a flood of emotions that mimicked my process. It was an intense experience that left me wanting more. Even though at one point I was sure I couldn't take anymore. I'm writing this while I feel pretty low. I have returned home to life as we know it and the realities of it are a slap in the face. Perhaps not the best way to begin my new blog.

What goes up must come down. What starts down must go up.

Writing Exercise:
For some reason your character(make this someone you want to work with, someone from a future project) is waiting for a bus. By accident he gets on the wrong bus, taking himself someplace entirely unexpected. How does he behave in this predicament? What happens next? Write it as a scene. What details will you use to show fear, anger, disappointment?