Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Writing as Communication: Kick "Almost Perfect" to the Curb

Finding your way to readers is a weighty task for many writers. If you are the type of person who writes to express your inner and outer state of being, it's not the end game you seek. Rather, we are the ones who struggle at times for just the right rhythm to convey both language mastery and the more amorphous attempts to make our thoughts real.

As a writer you have found nirvana if you shape your words, sentences and paragraphs in a way that has you believing in the plot and trying to find out what happens through writing it down. It's the best place to be, and selling that work can wait until you have everything down and almost perfect.

"Almost perfect" is the key point here. Even the best and most prolific writers could have one story or a full-blown novel that is too precious to send out in a cruel and highly critical world. Other novelists and writers, on the other hand, can pound out hundreds of articles, a few short stories and a book per year and never worry about whether the work is perfect. Sincerely, I'm envious  of the ones who can let go of their writing readily and without looking back.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Amazing Way We Channel Our Inner Writing Madness

     A recent discussion on LinkedIn about creative madness brought out many differing views on life, psychology, and politics, but little in the way of an inspiring take on writing as a divine extension of the mind into unknown worlds of words, images and endless possibilities.

     A writer who posted an article on how to push away critics that seek to steal our unique voice and the way we scream or whisper through words and images was berated for daring to mention madness as an asset.

    The discussion devolved to  discussing how we shouldn't talk about mental illness as an asset. Van Gogh was brought up as an example of brilliance enclosed in an iconic battle for his life. It actually was great fuel for exploring that creative path in our souls that cries out when something is wrong. Sometimes, the best way to expunge the pain or follow through on elation is to write, paint, build, code or pursue other hands-on expressions of creation that make life worth living.

    Unfortunately, we have imbued labels such as "ADD/ADHD" with the power to stigmatize a whole population of people who may run instead of walking, who may speak out of turn, who may not be able to organize their lives without sticky notes (in some cases), and who might be perfectly happy the way they are if it wasn't for living in a time when deviation from the norm equals deviance.

We Write to Survive

 Writing and survival cannot be separated.

     We are led to believe that getting through school with good grades and attending a quality college will ensure our place in a profession that will feed us while we pursue what we love. If we are really lucky, we can work on what we love in our professional and private lives. (To see artists doing just that...tune into the PBS series on "Craft in America.")

     Unfortunately,  especially with writing, our worlds may collide and one or the other has to give way to reality. But how we set up that reality is part of the creative process we can embrace and pass forward.

Monday, June 16, 2014




  Get Those Years of Formal Education

 Out of Your Head and Write

        Unfortunately, anyone who has been formally taught how to write may dread the thought of composing another paper, poem or even an e-mail.

      We all know the voice in our head that either whispers or shouts about improving our penmanship or cutting back on daydreaming, the inability to sit still or a habit of drawing rather than writing, if the classwork was boring or tedious.

     This dread comes from the fact that we learn by doing, but we are taught to follow a very narrow path in mastering subjects like writing or math. Both these talents call on our free-form creativity. Yet letting our imaginations take us close to home or to far flung galaxies without a structure and outline is often seen as nonproductive in corporate and academic circles.

     Formal education has many goals, but the freedom to move, sing, dance or laugh out loud is not among them in most settings. After all, those actions lead to noise. Noise leads to distractions. Distractions lead to failing tests. Tests then fail to assess education. In the end, no one would be socialized and schools as we know them would cease to exist. 

      This isn't to say that individual teachers cannot inspire, allow movement and laughter or provide differentiation that feeds the inner writer. It's just that the structure of formal education is similar to the way we are taught to write.

       In an attempt to help others break away from the routine writing exercises and seminars that pass for adult education, I will offer a five to six week "course" on this blog starting in two months that will play with words in an effort to bring back some joy to writing.

      This is an experiment, so please chime in with suggestions.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Visualize Yourself Aloft


      Go aloft when and if you find yourself stuck in the negative energy that passes as constructive criticism, which includes the inner voice we claim over the positive moments in writing.
       Do a flyover that swoops in on only those words, sentences, scenes or page numbers, for that matter, that are complete and luminous in your mind. (Yes, this is in part a riff based on the new blog theme .)

My Reasoning
       As writers, our best bet for continued muse-inspired minutes, hours, or days of contentment (if not euphoria)  is to forgo the "likes" on social media sites. In turn, it may require accepting that even famous (or plain prolific) authors have their critics. To me, it sometimes appears that praise for some authors begets an equal or greater amount of nasty comments posted on those same social media sites against the book or script.
        It's even worse if you decide to take a massive online open course (MOOC) writing class along with 100,000 other students. Unfortunately, many instructors believe that they build community by having you share the writing/app/artwork. Instead, they demand that you prostate yourself and your fledgling poem or story on the altar of wayward critiques.

Fly In Tandem, Not Apart

Unfortunately, internalizing criticism can paralyze both the writer and the creative spirit needed to soar above the prey. In a 1999 study on criticism that focused on the process or the person, anything that made the critique personal rather than acknowledging the process or product itself caused anguish for the children (Kamins, K. L., & Dweck, C. S. (1999). Person versus process praise and criticism: Implications for contingent self-worth and coping. Developmental Psychology. 35(30): 835-347.)
Kamins and Dweck (1999) conducted a study that assessed criticism directed at the person, outcome or the process. They contend that even positive feedback based on the person, rather than the outcome of process, created vulnerability and a contingent self-worth.
In applying this to our own writing, it helps to take neither praise nor criticism to heart. Instead, a writer who is wavering can try a few acceptance tactics:
1. Concentrate on your process, which includes giving yourself credit for writing without inflating the amount, the time spent or the number of good or bad critiques.
2. Honor the outcomes of writing, editing and letting it go when you feel it is right.
3.  Accept only that criticism, if you must, that addresses the outcome or the process. Soar above any critic or supporter who makes it about your person.
Know your signs. In other words, artists of all kinds can spot when it gets personal. We take it in, stop working on a book or article, and then go through a long history of failures in our minds. That's when it helps to go back to the basics: your basics. It starts with pencil or pen in hand and a blank sheet of paper. (Go ahead, all you who prefer a keyboard, but remember that we more often get swept up in the feel of pen and pencil on paper than in the tapping of keys.)

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Word, A Thought, And Kicking Resolutions to the Curb

         Believe me, I understand the overwhelming urge to sit down and do the only unscripted writing, maybe for the first time this year, on the day before the New Year rings in for 2014. Unfortunately, resolutions serve as a written failure for so many creatives (not just writers) throughout the year

        Sure, you could lose 50 pounds, gain back 20; write a 1,000 words a day, a month, or in your dreams only; you could sign up for classes; or you could be nicer to yourself, your family, or your friends. Instead, consider how you could spend that hour writing something that brings you joy.

        Also consider the minutes or hours throughout the coming year when you decide that mentally beating yourself up is justified. What we don't see in the ups and downs of each day throughout the year may reign at these minutes.

       So on the last day of 2013, I suggest a few tricks for acknowledging what we do accomplish or can accomplish in the seconds, minutes, and even days between the self-doubts.
  1. Write a word, a sentence, or even a paragraph when you first wake up in the morning.
  2. Carry a pencil or pen with you everywhere you go and slip a pad or piece of paper into your pocket or purse. (Electronic means can help, but connecting to the paper through a pencil/pen or paintbrush tends to encourage creativity for many people.)
  3. For writers, visual artists, and even coders: steal moments for yourself each day. What do you hear, see, smell, or touch that grabs you? Put down just enough on paper to keep it going and to fuel your imagination.
  4. Acknowledge each week the words, visions, or coding you created. Depend more on the vision than the count, please. [This is qualitative (rich experience) rather than  quantitative (based on numbers or a misplaced ROI-return on investment strategy.]
  5. Take a moment or two each month just to feel good about what you are building, creating, experiencing as real in your creativity.
        Time is an illusion, although survival is based on the concept. But as we go toward the arbitrary beginning of the new year, please understand the freedom that writing brings to each of us. Embrace the small steps that lead to revelations.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Falling for the Myths & Tripping On Our Truths

        After seeing "The Book Thief," as a movie, it struck me that we sometimes live the myths more than our truths in attempting to write. In the movie, Liesl is taught to write through describing the outdoors to Max, as narrated by Death. We see the falling snow in the beginning, are with Liesel as she steals her first book and buries her brother, but don't experience all the pain, betrayal and heartbreak that made Markus Zusak's book a must read.

        Although movies allow us the illusion of immediacy, it's in writing, painting, creating animated features, and other forms of creation that we give birth to our truths. I have a friend who can write his life, but stops short of encouraging others to experience it by trumpeting that he got a gritty short story in a recent anthology.

        One of the books I'm working on tackles both my childhood and ovarian cancer, and it makes me cry. That won't guarantee that anyone else will share that gut-wrenching visceral experience. But without the emotion that underlies good writing on all levels, the words lose their meaning.

        Getting back to the myths, although this may be a repeat of past posts, we need to understand the mechanics to ensure we don't stand in the way of finding a way to explore in words what we cannot allow our brains to process.

  •  Myth: Only write what you know, can touch, see, or taste. 
  •  Truth: Everything we write comes from how we perceive reality. One person's golden sun is another person's skin cancer demon. Many of the great books also owe a great deal to imagination and research.

  •  Myth: Youth is an advantage.
  • Truth: Age means little to nothing in writing. What matters more is knowing your audience and understanding enough about your language to break the rules when necessary to express yourself. 

  •  Myth: A mentor is necessary to write effectively and publish.
  •  Truth: For most writers, teachers and others can serve as muses or dictators. The Internet is a cornucopia of tutorials, publishing alternatives (including the more visual mediums), and communities of writers and artists as support groups. My only advice is write first, ask questions later.
         As always, this blog is about possibilities. It's up to each writer to determine for her or himself which myths keep them from a full writing life and what truths could let the writing flow.