Thursday, July 31, 2008

How to crush an ego

Today's Mood: Ranting at myself. Today's Music: None yet-but my sister-in-law lent me the soundtrack to Juno and said I should give it a listen. Today's Writing: so far just this. Today's Quote:
"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." -Somerset Maugham.
A friend of mine was grieving and I had in mind to paint her a picture and write a poem (or something that resembled a poem) to go with it. Of course, the stars had to align just right in order for me to brave the painting process. I did the background first and then two more weeks went by before I attempted the actual painting. And when I got done, it looked like what it was--a novice painting of daffodils in the snow. After leaving it sit for a couple of days (and staring at it enough that my husband finally was inclined to give me his two-cents worth about what the problem was with it--which was tremendously helpful since I knew something was not right but wasn't quite sure what), I took out the paints again, touched it up a bit, and then called it done.

So, then comes the ego. I got all freaked out about sending it because I didn't want my friend to think I thought it was some great painting that she should frame and hang on the wall. I decided to scan it into the computer and then print it off as a card--that way it didn't matter if she didn't think it was a great picture because it was just a card. I went to work to scan it and while I was there, I got talking to my principal about the painting and my fear of sending it because I really didn't think it was "good enough."
"Here's the thing," she said. "If you send the original, your friend has the choice of whether or not to hang it up. A card is nice, especially since you made it, but it doesn't give her the option. And I'll tell you this, I have a friend who is an artist. Yup, he's not Picasso, but when he creates something for me, it means just as much to me--because HE MADE IT."

I thought about that, and in the end, I took the risk and sent the original painting. I had to fight down the urge to send a note explaining that it wasn't really a great painting but here's what it means. Again I took a big breath and just sent it with a simple note--not trying to explain it, not trying to belittle it. Just telling her I wanted to send this to her because it said what my words couldn't.

As an artist (whether I'm talking writing or painting or drawing.....) it is so difficult for me to get my ego out of the picture. It gets in the way of my writing, making it difficult to write because it might not be good enough. It gets in the way of my sharing/ sending out/ giving away because it might not be good enough. Granted, the whole publishing process is good at making me constantly question whether my writing is any good, but there is a place for that--and it is not in the creation stage.

We teach our kids to be humble, but how do we teach ourselves that saying our stuff isn't good enough is often the opposite of humble? It's ego. It's being afraid other people will judge it (and therefore judge US), and find it wanting, and we can't deal with that.

I'm trying to practice the art of allowing myself to write crap. But I find it extremely difficult. Despite loving to write, it is still easier NOT TO WRITE, than to write and have it not be any good. This novel I'm working on, I didn't outline this time. I know the basic conflict, the basic ending, but I wanted to allow it to go places unplanned. It might kill me. The last two days I'm just so totally sure that it all sucks and is going no where. I want to quit--but I can't. Because quitting is another thing I don't do well. And because I hate to suck and write crap, I spend more time drawing, and finding out that I suck at that too. And now the crap is so deep I'm drowning in it. The really good thing about that, is I FINALLY start to not care. Maybe the fumes kill the ego, I don't know. Whatever. I don't care. I'm just going to write and draw and paint BECAUSE I LIKE TO. So there. Take that you stupid ego!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Shot in the arm

Today's Mood: Amiable. Today's Music: The Fray--(yup, Robyn, it's new) Today's Writing: scraps of dialog from IFFY (the scene just popped in my head during my shower. I LOVE SHOWERS! Somehow they help wash the good stuff out onto the page.) Today's Quote: (Oh, the pressure!)
"Writing amounts to creating an oversized clay model; editing is the removal of the excess clay to reveal the piece inside." -Mystery writer Archer Mayorin "How I Write" The Writer August 2008

I love my small writing group. Just when I'm in my most doubting mood, the writing going slower than the slugs in my garden--and leaving something similarly slimy and disgusting in its wake, it comes time to meet with my writers' group. I agonize over what to bring (do I bring something I think is really good and risk getting my bubble popped? Or do I bring something sluggish and risk having them throw me out of the group?). But when I see the other members of the group, they greet me as a writer, and suddenly, I see myself as a writer again. We get down to work and read and comment and hone our craft. And I come away from group so pumped up that it doesn't matter if I need to do some major rewriting, because I'm a writer damn it! That is what I do. I write and rewrite until I get it as polished as I can.

Last night I received what I think is the best compliment anyone has ever given me about my writing. I had read my piece and the group had discussed it, so it was my turn to talk. I asked if anyone thought the word dark was over-used in the piece (it was), and Shelly said, "Oh, sorry, I wasn't paying attention because I was so engrossed in the story I was reading ahead. You weren't reading fast enough for me; I had to find out what happened."

To heck with the overuse of dark, she just made my day/month/year! I went home and my mind was clicking away on new scenes and ideas. As my mother would have said--what a shot in the arm! Thanks group! You are the best.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hypothetical Question

Today's Mood: Calm. Today's Music: Coldplay-Rush of Blood to the Head. Today's Writing: messed around with an idea for a poem. Nothing more than a mess at the moment. Today's Quote: (I just spent 20 minutes surfing around trying to find a great quote. Caught myself watching a Drunk History video on UTube, thought, how the heck did I get here? And gave up.)
I've got a hypothetical question for you--well, maybe two actually. Say there was this fortune teller who is NEVER wrong (obviously this is one part that makes it hypothetical--you cannot cheat and say that maybe the fortuneteller was wrong. She wasn't. Trust me), and she could tell if you would someday be a published author. Would you want to know? AND, if the fortune teller's answer was no, would you keep writing?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Zoned Out

Today's Mood: Blue. Today's Music: Sarah McLachlan--Rarities, B-sides... Today's Writing: IFFY. Today's Quote:
"We want to believe that creativity and innovation come in flashes of pure brilliance. But, innovation is a slow process of accretion, building small insight upon interesting fact upon tried-and-true process. Just as an oyster wraps layer upon layer of nacre atop an offending piece of sand, ultimately yielding a pearl, innovation percolates within hard work over time." -Janet Rae-Dupree, New York Times
Today I want to think about two different, but possibly related, things. How do you get yourself to sit down so that you stand some chance of getting "in the zone?" And then, assuming you achieve the first, what do you do to bring yourself back to the "real" world? That is assuming the world doesn't just crash your party.

For the first question, I find myself coming up with excuses lately--not enough time, too likely to be interrupted, not in the mood to write, too much on my mind to write..... the list goes on. Usually I'm pretty good about getting my butt in the chair. Way, way back when, I thought I could only write when I was depressed. Granted, at the time maybe that was a good thing because I was depressed! But I learned I could write if I just sat down and started to write--gasp! Remember, I didn't say it was great writing or anything--but I definitely could write. And during the school year I have a set routine, so there isn't a question about sitting down to write; it's just what I do. But now.... I could use some help motivating me to get in the chair. I tried setting my alarm clock early with the thought that I'd get up and write before the kids were awake--but I turned it off (the last 3 mornings in a row!) Part of the problem is I hate to quit dreaming. I love that dozing stage where my brain is telling stories--so much easier than actually WRITING stories.

And that love of dreaming leads me to the second question: how do you ease out of the writing zone? After spending a number of hours writing, I get cranky going back to the details of real life--food preparation, clean up, refereeing children, bedtime routines.... It's all seems so mundane. A few times I've taken a short nap before I went to pick up the kids. That seemed to help. Taking a walk or sitting down (away from the computer) on the deck and relaxing with a cup of tea (or wine) also helps. Come to think about it, some of those things are the same things I do to get in the zone. Maybe it really is changing from left to right brained and back again.

Or maybe it's all in my head. Trust me, I'm starting to think writing is a complete head game. And right now I am so losing. I need a personal trainer or coach or anyone who will kick my butt out of bed and make me go write!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Creative Zone

Today's Mood: Happy. Today's Music: IFFY Playlist. Today's Writing: notes for IFFY. Today's Quote:
“As artists, we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them—to restock the trout pond, so to speak. I call this process filling the well.” -Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way
Today I had an interesting discussion with a composer about different techniques we each use to reach the creative zone. It started with me talking about this link that has a test to see if you are right brain or left brain dominate. To my surprise, I saw the dancer turning counterclockwise at first (left-brain) and my husband saw it turning clockwise (right-brain). I generally think of him as more logical and me as more intuitive. Now granted, if I focused, I could see the dancer going the other way--and so could my husband. I found this interesting because the more I thought about it, the more it explained certain things about my writing. I like to write in a linear fashion. I like to have an idea where I am going in a piece. I am practical and goal-oriented.

In my discussion with Marilyn (the composer) we got talking about how we can access that right-brain. What things do we do that get us in the "creative zone?" Music is huge for me, but for her, since she is trying to compose, listening to music doesn't work. Sometimes she goes the other way--uses words, poetry, to get in the zone so she can create music. Drawing, painting, gardening, showering, driving, biking, cooking (as long as it is relaxed without a deadline and no hungry kids whining at me) reading--all those are things that help me zone out (so to speak) Honestly, showering is great, but people start to think you have OCD if you take too many showers a day, so I try to mix things up a bit.

Both Marilyn and I agreed that alone time is a must. I brought my journal with me camping, but since there were always lots of people around, I never managed to get quiet enough to write. Even when I'm home and the kids are busy, often it's hard for me to zone out because I know I'm going to be interrupted. And once I'm zoning, I don't like to be pulled out of it too abruptly. I get downright cranky in fact.

I wonder if people who are more right brain dominate have an easier time getting into the zone? The majority of people probably shift between left and right brain on a regular basis. Or maybe we even use both at the same time. I do think I'll try writing out of order a little more often. Maybe that will be another way for me to access the write brain a little easier. And I think I'll use Marilyn's idea and make a list of all the things that refill the well (to use Julia Cameron's words) and try to make sure I give myself permission to do those things on a regular basis. Sometimes I get so goal-oriented that I need to be reminded there is more to writing than just writing.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Today's Mood: Relaxed. Today's Music: Coldplay-Rush of Blood to the Head. Today's Writing: Zip. Today's Quote:
Be content in whatsoever state you are in. (Biblical but I have no clue where)
We just got back from camping over the 4th of July. I always feel sort of manic/depressive when it comes to camping. One minute everything is wonderful, the weather is warm and the bugs are not too bad (especially if one is wearing enough deet--which happens to be my perfume of choice this summer). The kids are riding their bikes, I'm sitting and drawing, listening to my mp3 player. And then, in the next instant, the kids are screaming and blaming one another for the crash, crying, blood, the fire (which started nicely) is now just a smoking pit, and a mosquito just bit me on the eyebrow--the eyebrow for Pete's sake! But then, a few minutes later, the crisis is done, and my stress level slowly drops out of the red zone.

Ah, the joy of camping. Late nights with lots of fireworks that go on and on and on long after the 11:00 quiet time, the loud laughter from the campers next to us, the whining of one who swears that the sister--the OTHER sister--crossed on to her side of the bed, and the noise of something in the night--something with little feet and sharp teeth that tears through the trash bag and loves peach peelings. The stars shone bright, the fire danced blue and orange and yellow, and I relaxed and did not write.

But, now I am home, and tomorrow I will write. Blessings to you all and I hope the writing is flowing from your soul through your fingers onto the keys or paper.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Writing? What's writing?

Posted by Deborah

Well, it's more than a week after the GL summer conference and I'm sitting on my son's screen porch in Winston Salem, NC, enjoying the perfect summer day and reading the PW blog, occasionally looking up at the sun shining off a hugo-gigantic magnolia whose blooms are ready to pop open. What a great way to spend a summer vacation! And while the week between the conference and now has been crazy, my mind keeps going over the memories, the conversations, the stories from Read Around and the small groups I was in. What blessings to have these thoughts running as an undercurrent to all I do.

I returned to what Chris H calls "writing for food" to find that my editor--the only editor I've ever had and a person who has care-fully nurtured my journalism, my interview ideas, my vision for the reporting I do--is leaving for another job (a fab opp for him and that makes me happy). But, selfishly, my first thought was "Oh my gosh! He's leaving me!," the second was about his happiness and wonderful future, and the third was "Oh my gosh! He's leaving me!" Talk about transitions, Sarah!

I've been through job losses, boss losses, reorgs, corporate changes in vision, and such before, and it's always turned out fine, sometimes it's even an improvement in my life, but that unknown (Who's going to be my boss now? What will he/she expect of me? Will I be able to perform? Will I keep my job?) can paralyze my writing. I can spend so much time trying to live up to what I think they think they expect of me that my brain just keeps looping over the same sentence/phrase/opening line and I spend hours on an article that should have taken 30 minutes to write, and then I'm pushing a very heavy deadline in front of me. Stress!

So, at the end of this month the new editor, as yet not hired, will probably be on board and I'll be transitioning to new ways of working. And while I know the solution is simple--just tell the story of the person I interviewed--it will, at least some days, be hard to remember that.

It's comforting to have the PW stories as undercurrent. But most of all, it gives me some peace knowing that all of you, the writers who can relate to this work, are rooting for me.'s this for a transition?'s a sight Tom and I saw on the trip down here, just outside Nelsonville, OH.