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Posts Tagged ‘creativity and imagination’

Writing Badly? Permission Granted!

img_0082Being deep in the throes of NaNoWriMo right now, it’s not unusual that I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of writing and what makes it work. Why is it that sometimes the words flow and other times they just don’t? The first time I realised I might be able to exert some control over that flow, that I might be able to do more than sit in front of a keyboard and hope the Muse would take pity on me, was when I read Natalie Goldberg’s classic book, Writing Down the Bones. There I discovered the timed writing. It’s simple really. You write non-stop for a given amount of time. You write against the clock, and you don’t stop writing until time runs out. No matter what! You write whatever comes without fretting over whether it’ll be good. And when you’re done, some of the end result – even a good bit of the end result – might be crap. But mixed in with that crap might just be the seeds of something wonderful.

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At the time I felt like I’d been asked to write with my left hand. Even writing for five minutes seemed like a daunting
task when I made my first attempts. But Natalie Goldberg knew what she was talking about. I was amazed at what came out of the abyss between my ears! It was only after I read Writing Down the Bones that I began to write real stories, and I think about that process of writing, just writing, no matter what comes out so often when I do NaNoWriMo because writing a novel in a month is never going to be pretty. But out of it, something truly wonderful can come. I know this because I’ve had two published novels from NaNoWriMo, and I’ve tackled both of those month-long races to the end as though they were a series of thirty gigantic, drawn out, timed writings.

 

So why did one book make such a difference? I finally had something I lacked in the past, something very important. I had permission to write badly. Every writer needs permission to write badly. Later Julia Cameron, in her book, The Artist Way, called those off-the-cuff, devil-may-care writings morning pages, and she prescribed three morning pages every day – written without forethought, written in haste. From a fiction writer’s perspective, she didn’t give them the weight that Natalie Goldberg did. They were only a part of a plan to open the reader to the artist within. To her, they were more about venting, sort of a daily house-cleaning for the brain. In addition to morning pages, Cameron insisted that every creative person should give themselves what she called an artist date once a week. An artist date was a date with oneself away from writing.

 

the-artist-wayI can’t count the number of times I stood myself up for my artist dates. I would have broken up with me long ago if I were actually dating me. But then I realised that an artist date didn’t have to be dinner and dancing or shopping or even visiting a museum. An artist date was a change of pace. It could even be ironing or weeding the garden. In fact the whole point of the artist date was to create space in which I could disengage the internal editor, engage the wild, creative part of my brain, the part full of ‘what ifs,’ and then, to give myself permission to write badly.

 

So many of us are under the impression that every word we write must be precious and worth its weight in gold. What I’ve learned since I discovered the pleasure of writing badly is that on the first draft, every word is most definitely not precious. On the first draft, every word is a crazy frivolous experiment. Every word is a chance to test the waters, to play in the mud, to let my hair loose and run dancing and screaming through the literary streets. Every word is a game and an adventure. Every word is eating ice cream with sprinkles for the main course. By the same token, every word is shit, every word is compost, and every word is the ground out of which the next draft will grow. I never know what’ll work crest-05e1a637392425b4d5225780797e5a76until I try it. I never know what my unconscious will come up with while I’m writing like a wild crazy person, grabbing words and cramming them in and rushing on to the next ones – just after I’ve done a basket full of ironing. Without that bold and daring first draft, without opening the floodgates and letting the words spill onto the page, there’s nothing to work with when the next draft comes. And when the next draft comes, the words do get precious. Every single one becomes weighty and irritable and reluctant to fit anywhere but the place it belongs, the place where I feel it just below my sternum like the point of an accusing finger.

 

But by the time I get to the second draft, by the time I get to that place where every word has to be perfect, I’m up for it. I’m ready to slow down and feel what every word means. I’m ready to find all the nuance and all the cracks and crevices of meaning in between the words. I’m ready for it because I’ve only just been playing up until now, and I’ve been allowing the words to play. And now … recess is over.

 

The longer I write, the more I realise what else, besides Natalie Goldberg’s timed writings and Julia Cameron’s reluctant artist dates, gets me there. And what gets me there is often totally being somewhere else, somewhere other than writing. Sometimes it’s playing the piano badly, or sweating at the gym, or weeding the veg patch. Sometimes it’s walking through the woodland not thinking about anything. Sometimes it’s reading something frivolous. Sometimes it’s writing-pen-and-birds-1_xl_20156020reading something profound. All the space that taking time not to write opens up inside me makes room for that wild
ride of the first draft. And when that first draft is finished, I have what I need to pick and choose, to sort through and sift, to change and rearrange until I find the best way to tell my tale. But up until then, it’s child’s play. It’s dancing naked. It’s shameless abandon and multiple verbal orgasms.

 

To all my lovely writing friends valiantly struggling through NaNoWriMo this year – in fact to anyone who has a story to write, let me just say this.

 

Writing badly? Permission most definitely granted!

 

Object Lessons: Silver Crucifixes and Yew Trees

2015-06-30 10.12.08I think a lot about the value we place on things, and I don’t mean in a materialistic way. I mean in a writerly way. I’ve always found myself drawn to detritus and things left behind. Everything left behind has a story, and because of that, everything left behind carries its own little bit of magic, no matter what it’s actual monetary value.

I mentioned when I was in Oregon that near my sister’s house there was a trailer park where a pick-up truck had been left derelict, the back end full, as though someone had vacated a flat in a hurry and then left the truck containing all their possessions as well. It was loaded down with all kinds of household items from a wok to a rocking chair, from a mangled computer table to a battered rodeo practice dummy. My imagination went wild. For me it was a treasure trove of ideas to be filed away for future stories.

I’ve found countless gloves and hats and hair scrunchies on walks that I’ve taken. I’ve found money, wallets – which I returned, underwear – which I did NOT return, shoes. At home in my jewelry box I have a bird skull I found on a walk once, bones like ivory, and every delicate one of them in perfect condition – obviously that I kept. On a walk once in Oregon, I found an unbelievably beautiful geode, broken 2015-05-13 16.49.34open to expose the beautiful crystals within. Trouble was, it was huge, way to heavy for me to carry back on a ten-mile, very steep trail. But I found it, I saw it, I filed it away for future use. If you follow my blog, you know about all the lovely pyritic ammonites I found on the beaches around Lyme Regis. I’ve found bones, bird eggs, feathers, books and large sparkly rhinestones, belts, buckles, ribbons and bracelets among lots and lots of other things, some valuable, most not so much.

But on this particular occasion, I found a silver crucifix about three inches long, half buried in the powdery dust of the path. There was just enough of it exposed for it to catch the sun as I looked down. I just happened to be walking through a stretch of woodland dotted with lots of very old yew trees. Yew trees are often associated with churchyards and holy places, and at the time I was 2015-06-30 10.37.54plotting out the next chapter of my online serial, In The Flesh. That being the case, the crucifix and the yew tree seemed appropriate symbols for inspiration for a story that involves a demon lover in a deconsecrated church.

So far the crucifix itself hasn’t figured into the story, but it definitely inspired what happened next. As for the yew trees,
well, when a good bit of the story takes place in an neglected overgrown church yard, it seemed appropriate for me to spend some time, clenching the crucifix in my hand and wandering among the yew trees. I took dozens of pictures and worked out at least that many scenarios in my head for the week’s edition of In The Flesh.

Afterwards, I stuffed the cross in a small pocket in my backpack and forgot all about it until just yesterday when I was digging around for something else, and I was reminded again how often detritus is a touchstone for story. So often, even when that detritus is not something shiny and silver and something worth hanging on to, it can be the seed of story, or at the very least the 2015-06-30 10.12.28seed of an idea that will become a part of a story. Things for a writer, as often nothing more than prompts, and sometimes those things would be totally insignificant to anyone else. On the other hand, the same piece of seeming rubbish that inspired one writer to a romance might inspire another to a horror story – especially something as evocative as a silver crucifix or an abandon pickup truck full of an anonymous person’s possessions. What makes something valuable is more often than not based on what its emotional attachments are. The value of a wedding ring, for instance, is much more valuable for what it represents than it is for itself. When a good
friend of mine got a divorce, I remember going with her to a jewelry store to sell her diamond engagement ring simply because it no longer represented what it had when she wore it for love. In fact, it now evoked almost the opposite feelings in her.

My good friend, Kay Jaybee often tells people that she can write about anything, that any object can be an inspiration. It’s true. But some things capture our imagination more than others and when that happens, it’s time to hang on to our writer’s caps and enjoy the ride.

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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