Thursday, April 29, 2010

Another Argument to Write Together (or Watch Me Get Spiritual)

Here are more thoughts on Unplugging Phenomena:

Believe it or not doing yoga in a room that is so full of people that your mat is two inches from the mat of the person next to you is extremely pleasant. You'd think with the sweat, the proximity, the embarrassment when you fall out of crow pose would make this kind of class uncomfortable. But, no, there is something about the dance, when the whole class cartwheels their arms as one, as if we are a room full of windmills! To plant hands on the mat, lowering ourselves to the mat and then starting the flow all over again. Like windmills it is eerie and beautiful and full of energy. I feel sometimes as if I am hovering above myself, there is nothing but postures and movement and tangible energy in the room. And sweat.

Sometimes writing is like that too. Without the sweat. Especially our unplugging practices. The people writing with me are much farther away (some farther than others!), across time zones, and oceans and serious land masses. I've never met these people face to face, and yet when we unplug our minds are at like purposes, almost as if we are praying together, there is power being connected even if it is through circuits and satellite dishes (or the ephemeral brainwave?). Studies do validate prayer and meditation, especially in numbers and I would argue that all good writing is like prayer.

The fact that someone is waiting for you to when you return from the writing, and not just because they need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, is like icing on the cake (Dena, I honestly wrote this before our chat!). And perhaps it is like magic, the praying, writing, yoga, tennis, the zen of whatever it is that you do, where there is something about our bodies, our minds that can't be seen, joining together. Something powerful and beyond our ken. That makes the words come a little faster, the ideas easier, the writing better.

Believe it or not!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Writing As Practice

In the vases are crabapple blossoms (my mom always cut these branches and filled the house with them and I want to grow up and be just like her) and tulips. Soon there will be lilacs--my favorite! I can't wait. When the lilacs are in bloom is also when you can go to the woods to look for morel mushrooms! Delicious in butter and pretty in your hat (when you collect them, that is).

On to the real point of this post:

I am a member of a group of women that meet once a month and write together Natalie Goldberg style. We pick words and give ourselves 20 minutes to write and then read out aloud whatever crap we have written. I like that it takes away the preciousness of sitting down to write. The listeners tell what resonated with them. There is no pressure, no need to produce anything, it is like getting together to play tennis with less exercise, more wine and no competition.

At this point, I don't do it to gain skill, although at one point I did it because writing was one of the last things I ever did for myself. I needed the writing time for building confidence. Now I lead the full on writing life. And our writing practice meeting are an opportunity for me to write socially. (The practice room allows that too.) (More later this week on why writing socially works.) And I still love these get-togethers. It is terribly reassuring to have somebody writing next to you and know that we all put our pants on one foot at a time. Writers forget that when they look at finished (read fully dressed) products.

But it is one example of writing practice. Doing the writing for it’s own sake. Just because it is enjoyable. Just because your curious what will end up on the page. There is no means to an end, and I rarely look back to see what I got. I date the page and it remains in the notebook along with old grocery lists, inane notes about taxes and the things my son has to remember to bring to school. Last fall I ditched a bunch of these notebooks. Pages and pages of scribbling. C'est la vie.

Writing practice, just like any other kind of practice does help you get better, but that is not the reason you do it. You do it because it is what you do.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mark Your Calendars

So I wanted to post the unpluggings for this upcoming week. I meant to do it last Friday but the whole deal got away from me. First the recap on WIBIJ?! Then school carnival, volunteering to sell spirit wear (the whole event would benefit from alcohol and I'm quite certain the school would make more money) and a weekend away with the book club women(no lack of alcohol here). Now I am back and planning for the week.

From now on unplugging schedules will be posted on Fridays both here and at The Practice Room. And there will always be a link through The Practice Room door noting the schedule. If you want to know more about The Practice Room go here.

Here is next week's schedule based on my ideas of what might work for those who have shown interest and have let me know what might work.

Monday, April 26, 12-1pm EST.
Tuesday, April 27, 11am-12pm EST
Wednesday, April 28, 5-6pm EST (This one is for you, Casey!) (After 11pm in Greece??)
Thursday, April 29, 12-1pm EST
Thursday, April 29, 11pm-12am EST (This one is for you, Elana!) (Definitely late in Greece!)
Sunday, May 2, 11pm-12m EST  (and this one!)

Special message for Ann Marie: Do any work for you? Is Greece seven hours later than eastern standard time?

I will not post the second or third post in the event no one can join me for the unpluggings!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Post About Choking (or something)

I like Jonah Lehrer. I wrote about his book before: How to Decide. I never read the whole thing through, perhaps if I did, it would be very helpful for the likes of me as I can be the indecisive sort. I am very good at seeing all sides of any situation. Often that is too much information.

Lehrer has gotten his share of flack because he has said that depression is helpful. What I think he was trying to do was de-pathologize depression. A valid endeavor. Showing that depression has a way of making us work for things and it is not at all abnormal for us to feel down (don't we writer's know that well). There is something to be said for this. Just as we need anxiety so we don't get killed by a lion, we also need depression to keep us real (I don't know really, what do you think the flip side of depression is? Lehrer says it pushes us to deal with complex problems.). But Lehrer blurred the lines of his argument by just saying depression is good. He perhaps has not worked with folks that are deeply stuck in their sadness where depression has seriously impaired their life. Just ask my hubby (he's a therapist).

But generally I find Leher's brain work, brilliant and encompassing. His recent article on how not to choke has helped me with many things. Starting up The Practice Room, even though it scared the heck out of me(it is going great though and has been a thrill). Getting through this recent block. Maybe this article will even help me get through reading my whole darn unfinished book. Nah!

I have a tendency to over think things, yes a tendency towards depression (good thing I live with a therapist. Thanks, honey!), but once I know the things, recognize the switch in my brain that needs to be turned off, I need to let myself get into the flow to fix it. 'Cause as we learned from my last post deliberate practice means pushing ourselves to work on the things that we don't know how to do. It is what makes us better at things. It is what Mozart did, Tiger Woods does all the time, and just look at Agatha Christie's notebooks! It is that switch from revision to drafting, polishing to practicing, choking to writing. As the Bhagavad Gita says: your right is the performance of actions, but not it's fruit. An interpretation of that is: using your gift is it's own satisfaction, so do what you do for it's own sake. It is simply part of your being.

Here is a quote from Jonah Lehrer:

There was a way to ward off choking. When the expert golfers[read "writers"] contemplated a holistic cue word[such as; smart funny fast, interesting], their performance was no longer affected by anxiety. Because the positive adjectives were vague and generic, they didn't cause the athletes[read "word-smiths"] to lose the flow of expert performance or overrule their automatic brain.

Off to try that out!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Unplugging Notices

Two today (Tuesday April 20, 2010): 11 am eastern and 8 pm eastern. (Do both like me!)
Thursday: 12 am eastern.

Up coming unplugging plans: watch the schedule! I plan to host afternoon unpluggings  and later evening ones (are you a midnight writer/illustrator/artist???). Put in your vote: do you want an early AM one??

Join us in The Practice Room (through the door on right). Read more about it here.

Do feel free to join us.

Real post tomorrow! I promise.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Agatha Christie and other genius

Here she is at work:
Image result for agatha christie

According to this book about Agatha Christie's notebooks(via, Christie's process was hardly very orderly, as her prose or the photo above might imply.

Here is an excerpt from a Slate article by Christine Kenneally about the book:
The contents of the notebooks are as multi-dimensional as their Escher-like structure. They include fully worked-out scenes, historical background, lists of character names, rough maps of imaginary places, stage settings, an idle rebus (the numeral three, a crossed-out eye, and a mouse), and plot ideas that will be recognizable to any Christie fan: "Poirot asks to go down to country-finds a house and various fantastic details," "Saves her life several times," "Inquire enquire-both in same letter." What's more, in between ominous scraps like "Stabbed through eye with hatpin" and "influenza depression virus-Stolen? Cabinet Minister?" are grocery lists: "Newspapers, toilet paper, salt, pepper ..." There was no clean line between Christie's work life and her family life. She created household ledgers, and scribbled notes to self. ("All away weekend-can we go Thursday Nan.") Even Christie's second husband, the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, used her notebooks. He jotted down calculations. Christie's daughter Rosalind practiced penmanship, and the whole family kept track of their bridge scores alongside notes like, "Possibilities of poison ... cyanide in strawberry ... coniine-in capsule?"

According to the book Agatha's voice itself was painfully constructed. Taking time and many many notebooks. There is something so validating about knowing Agatha Christie drew maps, scribbled lists, let her husband join the fun. That no notebook was sacred. And no idea. Because I have always been worried that my ideas are too much like a mess of pick up sticks, the colors can be so pretty but they lie down there all over each other. I know I am no Agatha Christie, although the plot of my novel is turning out to be equally complicated (at least for me to figure out). But I had long thought that my disorganized mind, unable to form this single plot into any kind of cognizant shape was a problem.

Apparently Agatha had doubts and tried to get her notebooks under control. But Kenneally asks: Still, if Christie's natural method was to be disorganized, I wish I knew why it troubled her and why she ever thought it could have been different. Why was her prep work so profoundly nonlinear? She distributed thoughts literally all over the place. Is this what it looks like when you wrestle something down that is actually bigger than your own head?

And I'm inclined to agree with Kenneally, especially with the wonder so apparent in her questions. Why worry, if all those amazing mysteries and surprise is to be the result of it?

There is no proof of amazing results where my novel is concerned yet. But perhaps Agatha Christie's method is enough to validate my urges to draw the book, shape it from clay, find it's YouTube counterpart. If only to find my way through it. To discover some beauty in my apparent aimlessness, and trust that if there is no straight shot through this mess, so be it, I at least have joy and beauty, even if I lack the sense.

Apparently Mozart was the rare child prodigy that actually grew up to be successful as an adult. I recently heard David Shenk talk about it on NPR. Listen to it here. He describes deliberate practice, pushing ourselves to work on the things that we don't know how to do. That that is a process that teaches success. It doesn't come easy to anyone it seems. It takes work. And faith in something. Perhaps also faith in the work.

Announcement: Next Unpluggage Convention Monday at 12 (est)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fever 1793 + NEW TRAILER + Convention Reminder

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

I loved this book. Not only did Matilda, the thirteen year old narrator grab my interest right away, but everything I learned in the book was riveting. The story was about the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the then capital of the thirteen united states of America. This book is a perfect example about how learning while you read is thrilling. We learned about the dueling philosophies of the French physicians (the french were quite the hipsters in 1793 as they had supported America during the Revolution) and the prevailing physician of the day, Dr. Rush. Despite being quite forward thinking in social respects, Dr. Rush probably killed more patients than he saved with his blood letting and mercury doses. The French physicians treated the yellow fever patients with plenty of fresh air, rest and fluids, which, according to the Anderson's afterward, is how yellow fever is still treated today. This was a supremely crafted book, down to the small details of insects and vermin that we now know are part of the spread of the disease, but the characters are in the dark on this. Anderson's attention to these details and the mysteriousness of this disease and makes this book a fantastic read. I totally and completely loved it.

Speaking of loving something. I love this new book trailer:

I love how the music, colors and the drawings with those postures and phrases gives such a strong sense of the story. Way to show off your writing, Steve! I am so looking forward to Steve Brezenoff's book, THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF -1, coming out in September. Yes, I have met Steve. He is great to hang out with at a conference, if you ever get the chance. Also I can recommended his "high interest, low level" readers at Stone Arch Books. My son loves them and it has been hard to find the right book, one he can read himself. (He reads like crazy on CD but with his eyes, it's much harder) These are a dream (at least ours!). I have every intention of writing about this on this blog. Later.
(and yes I am posting for entry into his contest, but I do sincerely like the video, and I probably would have done it anyway, but you should absolutely post this video and enter too, details here)

Finally: Reminder tomorrow at 12pm eastern is the second Unpluggage Convention; please show up if your time and computer allow. It is a great way to blow through some pages and get some support at the same time. I can't wait.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Next Unpluggage Convention: Thursday at 12 pm Eastern.

The first ever Unpluggage Convention earlier today was fun. And not just because my writing went well. Thanks, Kelly, Marisa, and Heather. It was because you were there! It seemed to work for you all too. Yay. I'm telling you, it is a phenomena!

Almost as good as writing right next to each other! Someday...

Unplug for an hour with us (all are welcome) on Thursday!  See how much harm (or good) an hour can do!

Just through here: The Practice Room.
First ever Unpluggage Convention: TODAY at 12 pm Eastern. Unplug for an hour with us! First post will go up at 11:30AM, giving you a chance to set your goals in the comments! See how much harm (or good) an hour can do!

Just through here: The Practice Room.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A post about my blog (and the first ever Unpluggage Convention)

This is what I want: A place for me to collect and note all the things that inspire me. A place for me to share them with you, to discuss my writing process and the ups and downs of it. A place to connect with people and make new friends and yet keep the old (you all glitter as far as I'm concerned). A place for me to keep track of the books I read and make note of how they have provided for me as a writer. My goal is to keep posts short as that is what I like to read (sorry if this one gets too long! Special circumstance, I sware!). I also want to share the wealth of newly discovered Unpluggage Phenomena.

And ta da!
Here is the new blog! Why the cabbage up top? 'Cause cabbage is a delicious and wondrous thing. It can be used in Mexican dishes, Asian, pickled for Germans, dilled for the Norse folk of my heritage, add lentils and ginger and garlic in the case of Indian. And those layers provide for lovely metaphor. I could go on, but will not as I have pledged to keep the posts short and I have not yet got to the (whole) point of this particular post.

Introduction to the practice room. Ta Da!

Right through here: The Practice Room (Note: This is a door from my notebook. Jon is preparing an actual doorway for me. Between his many jobs and his commitment to his critters, etc. And then of course he has WIBIJ and his blog and the real writing... You really are, aren't you, J?)

Here is the Unpluggage Convention Plan: Enter a quiet little chamber, separate from these goofy posts and other distractions, a spa-type locale for us to convene. Where I hope you will sign in, set goals and unplug (only for an hour) to work on our WIPs, and then come back again to egg each other on. I will announce Unplugging Conventions periodically, here in the regular posts. I plan to mix up times, scheduling one every couple weeks, so there may a chance that you can make it. Initially, I will not be surprised if it is just Heather and Jon and I. Well, Jon when his grueling unplugging and replugging schedule permits. But that is okay because practicing is good for us. I reserve the right to change this plan as needed.

I would love for it to work for you. But I expect that some people need this like a hole in the head. But others may really benefit from a chance to set their goals an hour at a time, marking progress immediately afterward. They say you should count words instead of pages, and I say you should count them in one hour increments!

If you have ideas and want to weigh in please do so!! I WANT TO GET BETTER AT ALL OF THIS!

First ever Unpluggage Convention: Monday(4/12/10) at 12 pm Eastern. First post will go up at 11:30AM, giving you a chance to set your goals in the comments! (I am hoping Heather Kelly will announce it at the watercooler on Monday morning). Go see our practice practice runs: The Practice Room. And after we are done, feel free to encourage others, to fail miserably (or better as the saying goes) or blog about what happens. We will all be there to watch!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Battle Scene

(Photo missing)

Battle! by my son and his friend.
Medium: oil pastel on BUMWAD

Here, my son points out the battle winner to my daughter. Well, he thinks it is the winner, he says.  Jack might actually think his guy won. I told him it really didn't matter to me, that it is the prettiest battle I have ever seen.

I have been having trouble with the revision of chapter eight. I have made a 9 point plot chart(thanks to QueryTracker). My revision mostly involves cutting and pasting stuff already written into a different order. And ditching a lot of words. Good riddance. I am at point 4, exposition. But I am stuck.

I don’t believe that you wait until inspiration strikes to get to work, but there is a certain feeling that happens when the story is no longer in your head and has settled into your bones. I don't feel it yet. In the meantime, what if the story could be revealed in oil pastels on bumwad?

Do you ever draw your wip? What gets you unstuck?

And WIBIJ starts in 20 minutes and lasts till tomorrow. The theme and the blogs are real beauties! Come and play all day!!

Monday, April 5, 2010

"I Hate Mondays"

Do you remember this song by The Boomtown Rats? Back when Bob Geldof was singing, before he became an activist against poverty in Africa. I heard it this weekend on the radio. So this song struck me, back when I was in high school and full of angst, and now because I have been trying to define camp. Listen to that dramatic beginning. The big upbeat sound that so contradicts the lyrics. It has a certain camp element to it. I think this song qualifies as camp because the message is so opposite the delivery. But camp is something that is more of a feel than a set of rules.

It has been a recent writing obsession of mine to try to identify camp and how it works on people. Or maybe, how it does not.
Here are my examples:

John Waters' Hairspray.

That first season of WEEDS.

Do you remember Raising Arizona? All that high falutan language coming from those petty criminals. Kind of campy.

In literature: How about The Confederacy of Dunces? Oscar Wilde has The Importance of Being Earnest. Even Jane Austen had some campy characters. A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Do you have any examples of camp?

But if you wish, just tell me how much you hate Mondays too. They can be rough, especially after long weekends and holidays.

Unplugging Convention Update:
Next Monday (A lot going on this week with wibbage on Wednesday at 1pm eastern). Maybe that will be a good way to start next week. I will post a place for us to set goals and then return and recount what we accomplished. Expect an update about said place on Friday.