Saturday, April 12, 2008

Writing is Essential to Life!

When did it happen? Somewhere along the way, the desire to write turned into the necessity to write. My body actually has a physical reaction to not writing for a day or more. I feel edgy or anxious, as if I have missed an important appointment. If I haven’t made time for myself to connect with my world of writing - I have. I have missed an appointment with myself, and unless I put some words on a page fast, I know that I will be miserable. My husband can attest to this strange force that takes hold. The winds outside seem to blow harder, the air in the house is heavy, canned goods jump off the shelves (no, not really) – all because I NEED to write! My husband will say, “Just go. Take yourself out with your laptop. We’ll see you in 2 or 3 hours, and you’ll be a new person.” It’s true. I am much easier to live with, when I have had my writing fix.

Literature brings meaning to the writer and the reader. For the writer, it brings both meaning and an extraordinary purpose in life. Being able to describe your world in detail and create something that represents that experience of life with all of the joys, sorrows and every day occurrences is a great gift. Writers, painters, photographers, musicians, dancers, actors and all those in the various creative arts fields, all have the precious opportunity to observe and comment on the human experience in a way that the viewer or reader can identify with, find meaning in and draw comfort from, as we all travel on this path together. Artists have the gift of expressing how it feels to be alive on a deep and primal level. Without this space to create and express, most of us would just have too much creative energy bubbling up to the surface with no outlet. Thank goodness for the blank canvas, the blank screen or paper, the stage, and the raw materials of art.

Writing is essential to life. What a gift to know that this is your path.

Write on!

Circling the Poem

I always write around a poem before zeroing in on the right words. It’s kind of like the ritual of a cat who walks in circles over and over on a comfy couch, or your favorite soft sweater, before eventually lying down in a mound of purring fur. If a runner or dancer needs to warm up their muscles before setting the body to work, and if a singer must first vocalize before performing the long runs and high notes of an aria, then a writer must also limber up the mind before writing that much awaited, ever elusive, literary masterpiece.

To go back a step further, I always read good writing before attempting to write something worthy of reading. Either a novel by an author I admire or a book about the writing process serves to prepare my mind for the work ahead. Elizabeth Berg wrote an inspiring book about writing called: Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True. I highly recommend all of her books and this book on writing is a must read for writers. At the end of each chapter, Berg even includes practical writing exercises, which can really jump-start your writing session.

Once I am ready to put the books down, I like to write what I call “starter” pieces before diving into my current project. Whether it be starter prose or starter poetry, the initial flexing of one’s writer’s muscles is essential to getting to the gem phrases or the sparkling thoughts that people will be touched by and inspired by when reading your work. I might find one sentence that stands out. I will then use that sentence as a starting point, or even use it as the title of the next poem I write, and a new, evolved poem will take shape. Sometimes a phrase will take me in a new direction – the direction I am meant to take - and I will write a completely different poem than I first set out to create. When everything comes together and the magic of that final poem or paragraph appears, the one you were meant to write, you will feel the energy of the words come through and you will know that this is why you write. This moment of knowing that you have found a way to bring life to words in a way that reveals a greater truth or an inspiring story that will touch the lives of others – this is the moment when you are “in flow”. Keep going. Stay with the flow for as long as you can, until you naturally need to take a break or in my case until the babysitting session is over, and you must return to fetching sippy cups of water and bowls of goldfish for eager, smiling toddler faces.

This writing life that sweeps you up in a frenzy of ideas and words is a magical, compelling activity. It is a way of life. It is “The Pull of the Moon” - To use the title of one of Elizabeth Berg’s novels. This topic requires its own blog entry, so read on, as I allow my Running on at the Ink blog to run …

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Writer's Geography

We recently moved our family from the seacoast of New England to the lake country of the Midwest. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how place can inform, inspire and provide a foundation for one’s writing. At least I still have bodies of water around me – although I will miss the salty taste of the wind on my lips from being near the ocean.

I am a writer in transition. I am still surrounded by boxes, I still refer to NH as “back home” and I haven’t even registered with a dentist yet. We are settling in though, making this house a home, and letting our feet land on the ground of this new town. Did I mention that they have chosen this year to dig up the streets of the entire downtown area, so that you have to take a 5-mile detour to get to the good grocery store? I am still adjusting.

Author Natalie Goldberg wrote about how sad she was to leave Taos, which was a very fertile place for her writing. She was given sage advice from her meditation teacher who told her not to grow too attached to a geographical place, that her writing would flourish anywhere. It is akin to having a personal crisis if you cannot find your lucky pen before sitting down to a writing session. I was sad to leave New England too. My writing flourished there, and I had just found a wonderful community of writers who all met regularly at open mic nights to share their love of poetry. By the way, I also have several "lucky" pens. I know that the pen does not hold the magic though. It is the writer who holds all of the cards – all of those bent, scribbled index cards with ideas and character descriptions. The love for a story grows within the heart and the essence of that story finds you - wherever you are. You can be in a car driving to a family reunion. You can be in the shower thinking only about how much conditioner to use. The opening lines of a story will be whispered in your ear, like an overheard conversation. You can even be in the unfamiliar finished basement of your new house, with a half finished office set up and every book you own stacked onto ten bookcases against every wall. You are waiting – waiting for the writing to return – and it will. It does. That favorite coffee house with the atmosphere that makes your words sing? You will find another cozy java spot. That inlet by the beach where the waves crash 20 feet high against the rocks after a storm and which is your lucky spot to write? You will find a quiet patch of grass by the lake that will open up a wellspring of words.

A writer’s geography is in the mind. You are always “on location”. A treasured place can be reassuring – it can spark a flow of words that introduces you to new worlds. Never forget that there is a universe of creativity in your writer’s soul. Take it with you.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Comfort for the Writer's Soul

Who wouldn't want some comfort along the way on the soul's journey? When that warmth and encouragement comes from the thoughts and experiences of other writers, there is no resisting for the avid scribbler. In this short blog entry, I wanted to recommend my latest late night read and the anthology that I often dip into before a writing session. A Cup of Comfort for Writers is a wonderful collection of personal essays written by established writers who entertain us and inform us about: the inner workings of the rough draft stage, the compulsion and addiction that submitting work to magazines and publishers becomes, favorite teachers who recognize the talent of an early student writer, the characters who beat a path to your door until you write down their story, and the always enthralling - sometimes frustrating - process that writing can be.

If you are looking for inspiration, a welcome break from a paragraph, or the kind words of a fellow writer who understands your world like no other, then this is a book you should pick up!

A Cup of Comfort for Writers: Inspirational Stories That Celebrate the Literary Life
by Colleen Sell