Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I Am Having a Love Affair ... with WORDS!

After reading Natalie Goldberg’s essay “How Poetry Saved My Life”, in which she reveals her first flush of love with words and the art of poetry, I realized that I too have been having a clandestine romance with the English language (shhhhh … don’t tell my husband ;-D ). It has left me breathless many a night over a blank journal.

I hear words or phrases in my head. Sometimes, if I am lucky, a whole first stanza will appear. Who knows what gracious muse bestows this gift to me on these nights, but I am thankful nonetheless. After writing and re-writing a passage, typing it in and making “each word shine” (Emily Dickinson’s choice words, not mine – isn’t she brilliant?!), I will read the poem, short story, or chapter from a novel out loud. I let each word fall from my mouth and take up the whole room, so that the rhythm brushes my skin with heat and the chiming of syllables falls like rain all around me. I close my eyes sometimes to see, really see, where my characters live. Some live in a one-bedroom apartment where the grotty linoleum needs a good scrubbing. Others don’t seem to live anywhere – they walk the streets for the duration of the story. Their history takes up the space that a home normally would ~ great, big spaces of melancholy and grace.

Words are like music when you listen attentively. They can lull you to sleep on a restless night. Phrases can soothe you with their surprising tenderness like a warm bath doused with lavender and bergamot oils. Whole paragraphs that move in a single motion like a smooth flowing river can be so soft. You will want to wrap them around your shoulders, your knees, and your gorgeous toes that get cold at night. The warmth will energize and inspire you to write more, so that an entire afghan blanket appears to shelter your dreams.

So dream about words, bathe yourself in syllables, let each image that takes shape lead you down the literary path. May you have many sweet dreams filled with words.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Warming up the Ink

I think the "warm-up" principle for any activity is important. You wouldn't run a marathon or perform an arabesque in Swan Lake without stretching your muscles first, would you? So why would you sit down at the computer to write a story without getting your brain and finger tips ready for some serious writing?

For writing sessions out of the house, I usually pack a copy of Elizabeth Berg's book, Escaping into the Open: the Art of Writing True, whatever current novel I am reading, a blank journal and my laptop. That's a lot of gear! I start by reading someone else's good writing for inspiration. I often think that maybe by osmosis, talent will seep into my pores. A good read should be accompanied by a nice steaming cup of something delightfully aromatic and flavorful, whether for you that means a cup of Earl Grey tea or an indulgent Cinnamon Dolce Latte. My next step is to dip into Elizabeth Berg's book on writing in which she has wonderful writing exercises to get you going. It doesn't have to be a thesis. Even a paragraph or two in which you practice your descriptive language or dialogue can be helpful. That just leaves your empty notebook or computer screen to be filled. It depends on the day, but I am usually old-fashioned about writing things in long hand first, and then typing it up during the editing stage. There is something about scratching things out, writing little notes to yourself in the margins, perhaps doodles, that appeals to me. Also it doesn't hurt to have a beautiful pen to write with for inspiration. For Valentine's Day my husband gave me a gorgeous, purple "True Writer" pen from Levenger. I'm not trying to plug here, but I am addicted to all of their elegant paper and pen goods!

Given the fact that I only book about 2 hours of writing time, so that I can get back to my little boys and relieve Daddy, these steps can take as little or as much time as you have. If you feel you need practice, then just work on the writing exercises. Whatever suits you is best. There is no right way to write after all. I am just sharing one of my routines for getting inside of what Natalie Goldberg refers to as the "wild mind" of the writer. So - read, brainstorm, write, edit, write some more (look out the window at spring blooms, because life is too short) ... and remember to enjoy that coffee house java!

Happy Writing!

Monday, March 05, 2007

When you can't write - edit ...

... and when you don't have the inspiration to write or edit your work from that day, then blog about writing. It's still writing, even if you might be avoiding adding new content to your current project. So what am I avoiding writing tonight that would cause me to blog? I actually had a very productive week-end where the stars were aligned, I "booked" an hour to write while my hubby watched the kids, plus the baby took two long naps in his crib instead of on my shoulder, so I had another two hours of writing time. I feel I can afford to be a slacker tonight with my glass of milk, a sugar cookie and the laptop. This is when it is very dangerous to contemplate buying yet another fleece pull-over from L.L.Bean, because you have given yourself permission to browse their on-line catalog, instead of choosing to be productive by writing.

Another theory that I read in an article, from one of the many writing magazines that I thumb through when I am avoiding work, is that it is necessary to allow ideas and written work to "percolate". Kind of like a good cup of coffee, the author of the article suggests that you keep a file for ideas that you want to explore through writing and let the ideas percolate. You should add to this file for several days or weeks before even starting a project. Then he suggests that after you have written an article or story, you should allow your psyche to rest a bit and then re-visit the work with a fresh, clear mind. I have to agree on that last point. I always "sleep on it" after I have written a poem or a short story. The next day I will do more editing and the cuts and changes I make are swift, without sentimentality for the preciousness of the work that we as writers all feel at some point. Our writing is so fragile, because we put ourselves on the line for all to read. By the next day (after a good breakfast) you can plow through the sentences that lack grace, cut unnecessary phrases with your delete button or red pen, and free yourself of many clich├ęs that are begging to be given the 'ole Heave Ho!

On that note of bad phrasing, I shall close for tonight. Perhaps I will write after all. A good warm up always encourages a good work out. I hear my notebook calling.