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Permission to Write Badly

 

(From the Archives)

I’ve done NaNoWriMo often enough now and finished it that I know the value of giving myself permission to write badly. Permission to write badly is permission to FINISH a project and not get bogged down in the first four chapters. Right now I’m working on the rewrite of Piloting Fury, last November’s NaNoWriMo project, and my first ever scifi. I don’t mind saying I’m rather proud of it, but I wouldn’t have finished the first draft if I hadn’t given myself permission to just loosen my collar and let the words flow. Below is a post I wrote several years ago that seems very relevant every time I begin a final draft. Permission to write badly is always the reason I have a final draft to finish.

 

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of writing lately and what makes it work. Why is it that sometimes it flows and other times it just doesn’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.

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. 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.

I 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 and 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. 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 until 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 pulled the weeds in the garden. 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 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, get 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 reading 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.

Writing badly? Permission granted.

 

Insights from the Changing Room

(Some parts of this post were first posted on the ERWA blog Oct 2014)

 

Tuesday morning. 8:00. I just finished a brutal kettle bell workout. I’ve gone up in weight, and I’m seriously feeling the
love. I won’t even tell you what I look like as I walk into the shower room. Suffice to say it’s not a pretty sight. I don’t see much in my state of exhaustion. I fumble through my locker for my shower things and fresh clothes then stumble to the stall, where I strip off adjust the water and lean against the wall, wondering how I’m going to lift my arms to wash my hair.

 

I linger there because I can, because I work at home and home’s not going anywhere. All around me the changing room is a beehive of activity and my sense of smell is overwhelmed by myriad scents of deodorant, shower gel and various other olfactory efforts to disguise the scent of humans. Most of my fellow gym-goers have stopped in for an early workout before they head to work.

 

Once I’m clean, I join the ranks of the frantic in the changing room. While I admire the women of all shapes and sizes who seem completely comfortable being naked in front of everyone, I’m embarrassed to say, I’m not one of them. I’m fit. I’m strong, and I look good enough that people can tell I work out. But my body shows the wear and tear of being my vessel for a lot of years. It has served me well through the abuse of the youth I thought would be endless. Better still, it has (and still does) allowed me to experience some truly marvelous adventures and some amazing loving. At some point I’ve come to accept that I’ll never look like I’m twenty again. And the sad truth is that I was far less satisfied with my body when I was twenty than I am now.

 

The gym I go to is unpretentious, and it has a great mix of all ages and of people who are fit and people who are brave enough to thrust themselves into an environment where they can become fit. Most, like me, will know the joy of what becoming fit does to all other avenues of life. I’ve not come to that knowledge late in life, I’ve always felt more myself when I’m strong and healthy. BUT fitness and health rarely translate to the washboard abed, bulging biceped males we see posed on the covers of erotic novels nor the high, firm breasted, rounded bottomed women who frolic on the pages in between those covers.

 

Even now, as I watch woman unselfconsciously flitting around the changing room with pert tits and exquisite arses naked or in sexy underwear as they blow-dry their lush long manes and make themselves up to perfection, my stubborn brain is green with envy. This morning there seems to be a larger than normal bevy of pert breasts, tight bottoms and flowing locks as I slink to my locker and dress as quickly as I can so no one will notice that my tits are not that perky. As for my arse, well, do to a genetic trait in my family, I don’t actually HAVE an arse. I’ve spent my entire life tugging up my trousers and sitting on bone and gristle.

But I digress. As I shove into my clothes and run a quick comb through wet hair, not lingering for a good coiffing nor to put on the make-up I seldom wear, I can’t help feel that I should apologize for being neither coiffed nor pert. The nasty voice in the back of my head, says ‘at your age, who cares?’  And I protest that I look pretty damned good for my age. In truth, no one in the changing room notices anyone else, and no one judges in the frantic effort to get to work on time. My only judge is me, and sadly, I’m a bit harsh at times.

 

God! I battle those internal voices all the time. You’d think I’d get past them at some point. But I don’t. You’d think that writing characters who are less pert and less wash-boardy would be my way of shaking my fist at heaven, of cursing the fact that at my age – god how I despise that phrase! It feels like a “get out of jail free” card for every shortcoming that I had no excuse for when I was younger because I have now reached that magical age – whatever the hell that might be. BUT I digress again! Here’s the shocking truth. I don’t look twenty-five anymore. You’d think I’d make sure my characters don’t look it either. But nooooo! I constantly toy in my imagination with characters who may not exactly look like they live in a gym, but on the other hand, seeing them naked would be close enough to chocolate for the eyes to make my mouth water.

 

All good characters need a life beyond looking hot, otherwise they’re boring, and the only thing worse than a character with flabby abs and a flat arse is a character whose biceps or tits are the most interesting thing about them. I confess, I write what I wish was so. I write what I’m convinced readers wish was so. I write who we wish we could be, and who we wish would be so attracted to us that they’d lose sleep obsessing about shagging us senseless. I write charactersthat look like youth has decided to linger awhile longer with them than it does with most of us. Of course I’m happy to throw in some good genetics for nicely rounded bottoms and a proper amount of pertness. I write nice bodies, AND do my best to make them interesting too. I WANT IT ALL!

 

I live vicariously through the characters I write. Through them my tits are perfect and my arse is magnificent.

Through them, I am the obsession of the wounded hero who is both intelligent and a fine specimen of manliness. Are all these a sign of my neurotic shallowness? Or are they, perhaps a sign that I’m old enough to recognize what I’ve lost, what I’ve left behind. I’m old enough to understand the price everyone pays for living in a body long enough to experience enough life with all of its joys and sorrows and bashings about to look a little worse for the wear. I’m old enough to know that what I don’t reveal in the changing room at the gym says enough about the wounded character that I am, says enough about my numerous and openly admitted neuroses to remind me again that the sweetest things aren’t pert nor washboarded, nor nicely rounded. The sweetest things are all the experiences in between the best my body was when I was twenty and the best my body is now. Am I making excuses? Perhaps. Would I still like to be pert and properly rounded? Hell yes! Is my reality and the fantasies I create as a writer any less textured and rich because of the lack? The truth is, that it’s probably richer for my flat butt and semi-pert tits. But perhaps I only say that as a way of compensating for my envy of youth and beauty.

 

On the other hand the place inside me that lives to fantasize, to create, the place inside me that lives for story isn’t subject to the passing of years. And what comes out of that part of me is, more often than not, a way of dealing with my darkness, my self-doubts, my occasional tango with self-loathing. It’s my way of reconstructing them into something that feels better against the raw places, the places that are afraid and uncertain. It’s a way of being less cowardly in the knowing that I, like everyone, must deal with my own mortality as best I can. And sometimes the best way is writing stories with heroes who have nice abs and even nicer pecs and heroines who are round and tight in all the right places. Strange that I never actually see those characters, those fine specimens of physicality, in my mind’s eye, though I know that some writers do. But I feel them from the inside out. That way I know that they’re, in some ways, a testament to my irrational need to be forever young and yet at the same time to cling to the experiences that seldom happen in youth, but are always required to make us more than a collection of body parts that are pert today and sagging tomorrow.

 

BDSM in the Gym: Power Under Control

While some of this post is excerpted from the archives, it seemed really appropriate right now for a lot of reasons. Most of you know that I’ve always found physical activity an ideal way to access my creativity. One of my personal tag line has always been that I walk my stories. But walking is the foundation of so much more.

 

And NO! This is not a testimonial. It’s just observations of my own experiences. A bit of a naval gaze, yes, but I hope you’ll indulge me.

 

A year ago this past November, I made the decision to take off the extra weight I’d been carrying around for longer than I care to think about. I decided that if I wanted to achieve my fitness goals, I needed to jettison the extra baggage, as it were. And yes, that is a metaphor for a lot of things going on in my life then and now. By the beginning of April last year, I’d lost thirty-five pounds, reduced body fat and gained lean muscle mass. But that was just the beginning. I knew that the challenge would be to maintain my new weight and the habits that got me there as a way of life.

 

So, this post is a celebration of my first anniversary. I’ve maintained my weight for a year, and during that year I’ve continued to grow stronger and more fit. So I guess you could say that this post is a celebration of my body and the journey it’s taken me on so far, as well as those connections to my creativity. Please remember that these are my thoughts and my experience of the journey. Everyone is different.

 

I was asked once to write a guest post explaining what I thought the appeal of BDSM is in erotica. It’s a subject I still think about often, and every time I do I find myself thinking about my workouts at the gym and drawing parallels.

 

I work out with a personal trainer once a week. In addition she also trains me in kettle bells and Pilates. While the woman looks sweet and gentle, to those who submit to her training, she is anything but. She pushes me hard, much harder than I would be able to push myself, and I have a reputation for pushing myself hard. But the truth is that I don’t trust myself completely. There are boundaries I’m afraid to push on my own. I’ve had too many injuries from pushing in the wrong way and overtraining. Though I love working out with my husband, and we have a great time together whether we’re practicing martial arts or whether we’re swinging kettle bells, or even on a long walk, he can’t really push me like my trainer does because he’s not a trainer and because I’m his wife and he’s careful with me. Also he doesn’t want to be around the bitch I can be if he tries to push me too hard. I love training on my own. I love the creative process of it, but that doesn’t eliminate my need to be pushed by someone who sees me better that I see myself.

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Some days I hurt. Some days I even have a few bruises — mostly from mishandling kettle bells. I’m pretty proud of
those, actually, because they mean I’m learning new techniques, they mean she trusts that I can handle more difficult challenges and heavier weights. It doesn’t matter how badly my body hurts or how exhausted I am — I keep pushing, and I know that I can push because my trainer’s looking out for me; she’s in control.

 

What makes a situation that would appear to any outsider like torture something that I revel in is what happens inside my head. What I experience when I’m pushed to the edge of my endurance is somewhat similar, I imagine, to what practitioners of BDSM call subspace, which is the headspace in which submissives may find themselves when they’ve been pushed to their limits by their Doms.

 

I’ve been thinking about that training headspace a lot lately, about the place where I go during a hard workout, when I’ve moved beyond tired and beyond pain. Pushing myself to the limit changes much more than my body. It feels like I go through stages. First there’s determination, and when the pain sets in (I’ve learned the difference between good pain and bad pain) and my body starts to rebel, the emotions start to well up – sometimes anger at the intangible, at some nemesis I neither have a name for nor can define. Sometimes that anger morphs into a child-like state that brings me close to tears, a state in which I want to turn on my trainer and ask her why the hell she’s being so mean to me – even as I push myself harder, even as I respect her more for believing I’m worthy of this challenge. When I get past that ‘why are you hurting me’ stage, what happens next is the most amazing part of all.  Somehow my body pushes the pain back. Endorphins, adrenaline, and all the chemical soup flooding into my brain and body take me to a place that feels far removed from what’s going on physically, and yet also feels right there at the very centre of my body, right there where the part that makes me ME resides.

 

The thing about the change that takes place when my trainer has pushed my boundaries and tested my skill level is that, even when the workout is over, the change remains. I’ve gone where I’ve not been before. The reservoir inside me that makes me who I am becomes deeper. I feel more real. I write this because I’m always seeking ways to understand what’s going on in the stories we writers tell. And when BDSM takes up such a large space under the erotica banner, why wouldn’t I seek parallels, why wouldn’t I search for ways to understand, ways to help my readers understand and identify. I do the same with all of the many components of erotica. Having said that, I hardly think it’s a surprise that gyms and physical fitness figure so prominently in erotic stories. Nor do I think it’s a surprise that for so many writers,
physical activity is closely  linked to creativity.

 

If I could put the experience I share with my personal trainer into a phrase, that phrase would be ‘power under control’ — my power, her control. And that power is power I didn’t know I had, power I would have been afraid to access without her control. I think we can’t overestimate the body as a teaching tool for knowing ourselves. Nor can we overestimate it as a tool to guide us deeper into our creative selves. We’re all our own biggest mystery — power unaccessed, depths unexplored –and most of us tend toward the path of least resistance. Moving off that path into the Undiscovered Country, accessing our power, is often easier when someone else, someone we trust completely, is in control.

 

In Anticipation of Seedlings

 

In a few days it’ll officially be spring. I’ve been anxiously waiting for it since February’s dreary beginning. It feels like I’ve waited forever for winter to end, for the sun to shine again and the daffodils to bloom. Spring, we NEED you! I can feel it coming on everywhere now, and that means it’s time to think gardening.

 

Raymond and I got our corn and tomato seeds planted last Sunday. We managed it in a drizzle of rain, but we weren’t about to wait any longer. I check them every day, even though I know it’s still to soon for anything to germinate. At the moment they’re all settled nicely on a pine table in the kitchen looking very much like little pots of dirt. But I know there’s something wonderful happening down inside those little pots. This is veg gardener’s Christmas. This is anxiously checking the packages every day waiting for the gift, waiting for the surprise. And no matter how many times I’ve watched that germination process, it always is a wonderful surprise.

 

Here in the Soft South, with spring teasing and titillating us with delicious glimpses, it’s easy to catch the gardening bug. The beds have been weeded and this weekend they’ll be ready to dig. I’m truly excited for the first time since we exhausted ourselves in an allotment too big for us and, after two years of hard labour, had to give it up because it was just too much.

 

While the allotment experience was a disappointment, it was really no surprise. I’m greedy and biting off more than I can chew is my signature move. But this year the little pots on the pine table and the familiar comfy plot in our back garden seem less of a chore and more of a labour of love. This year I feel the waxing of the seasons and the need to touch the earth in a way that I haven’t for awhile. Creativity is played out in so many different ways, and there isn’t a more powerful metaphor for the creative process than growing vegetables. Being a part of the process, seeing it, touching it, and taking it into ourselves makes me feel connected to something greater than myself, something as old as time and as much of a mystery. Even though we understand the science of it, that doesn’t diminish the magic of planting a seed and getting a feast.

 

Every day now it’s light earlier, and the Dawn Chorus has begun in earnest. Every day now I wake up to the black bird’s song, and I find myself wondering, anticipating, what will grow, what will be born in the lengthening of days and the warming of the earth. Growing veg has a way of reminding me of my own creative efforts and how tied they are to my own waxings and wanings. As the season advances I’ll probably share way more pics of corn and beans and tomatoes than you could ever hope to see. And somehow amidst the compost and pots and plants and veg, hopefully some of that creativity will find its way into me and into the stories I tell.

 

Smut Manchester: Community Inspiring Creativity

IMG_3808If I had to describe Smut Manchester 2015 in three words, those words would be community inspiring creativity. Whether it was the laid back, cozy atmosphere of The Bangkok Bar and Restaurant or the delight of spending time with Brit Babe Street Team members – some of them we were meeting for the first time. Whether it was the open Dungeon and watching the lovely Cara Sutra spank Janine Ashbless or the joy of brainstorming with, listening to, and encouraging other writers; whether it was the workshops or the readings; whether it was the opportunity to make our own floggers with Kink Craft or the delightful evening at Dr. Sketchy’s drawing the lovely performers, who posed for us, I feel as though I have been totally immersed in creativity for the past thirty hours, and I’m still buzzing from it. It’ll be days before I can actually absorb all that happened this weekend, and the really stunning thing about Smut Manchester is that technically it began at 11:00 Saturday morning and was over by 8:30 Saturday IMG_3713night. How such a short time can be so crammed full of creativity, community, random acts of kindness, inspiration and shenanigans totally boggles.

Victoria and Kevin Blisse continue to astound me with their gentle, contagious, enthusiasm completely underpinned by more hard work and passion than a small army could muster. It’s a total delight to have been a part of Smut from the very first Smut event in Scarborough three years ago and to have watched it grow and evolve to the majorly exciting force for erotica and all things smutty. I would like to offer a huge and very heart-felt thank you to these two lovely, fearless people. Victoria, Kev, you are my heroes!

This Saturday has convinced me that we writers need to get out more! IMG_3698I know! I know! We’d all rather be holed up in our ivory towers tap tapping away on our laptops. BUT the pump has to be primed and sometimes we find the Muse in the strangest places; very often we find her in community. Sometimes she’s waiting with a pencil and a sketch pad, or with a mad attempt at a group selfie that ends is hysterical giggles, or the quiet chatting together crafting one’s very own, very beautiful flogger, or the incredibly thoughtful gift of a pumpkin pie totally made from scratch. Thank you Ian Haynes! Your name is spoken in hushed and reverent tones at Grace Manor! And yes, I did, indeed, practice delayed gratification and got said pie home to share with Hubby.

IMG_3677But, I digress. My point is that sometimes the things that inspire most have absolutely nothing to do with writing, and yet everything to do with story. Julia Cameron in her book, The Artists Way, suggests that creativity can be cultivated by having what she calls ‘Artist’s Dates’ on a weekly basis. These are little snippets of time in which we creative folks treat ourselves to a wander through a museum, to a play, to a movie, to a dance class, to a walk, to something, anything that will get us out of our usual headspace and cause us to see things differently. A writer’s date seems completely frivolous and a waste of precious writing time, BUT, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s neither a reward, nor a holiday, but an essential part of keeping ‘creatively fit.’ With that in mind, what can I say but that Smut Manchester was one big gigantic artist’s date. And, while we all know, few things can put IMG_3878you farther outside your comfort zone than a date, sometimes a date can be life-changing.

I spent a good deal of Saturday comfortably outside my comfort zone, in the company of other creative folks who were equally comfortably outside their comfort zone, with all of us encouraging each other. From being put on the spot by Kay Jaybee about what I would do with a tin of pears in heavy syrup out through the back door of the Sainsbury, to making my own flogger, to my very awkward attempts at drawing at Dr. Sketchy’s in the evening, I was always a little uncomfortable and always delighted by the Mr Sketchy winend results. Being outside my comfort zone inspired story ideas that I would have otherwise never managed. It’s not just the inspiration, but being gently forced outside my comfort zone seems to have left me feeling as though my whole creative self has had a relaxing, rejuvenating weekend at The Creativity Spa.

I won’t give you a blow by blow of the days events (though I do promise LOTS of piccies on Face Book over the next week or so) because even as I live them over in my own head and delight in them, I realize I would sound like an excited child telling her parents what she did on her first slumber party. What I do want to share with you, though, is what I took away — not in my head, but in those deeper, more visceral places where writers transform events into meaning and then into story.

I’m still reeling from the fact that I actually won one of the prizes at Dr Sketchy’s! (pretty sure it was a IMG_3861sympathy win. I was totally out of my element) I am now the very proud owner of a lovely pen and pencil artist kit that is so exquisite, I’m almost afraid to touch it. At the end of the allotted sketch time, with each awkward sketch I did, I scribbled a quick sentence underneath it of the story idea the sketch inspired. And while I sat making my flogger and IMG_3633watching other people make theirs, my mind was buzzing with a story. As for Kay Jaybee’s tin of pears in heavy syrup, well I reckon you’ll be seeing that in a story in the near future. Thanks, Kay!

The thing is, while most of our creative effort takes place in solitude, while we shape and refine our stories in isolation, what happens in community is a vibrant, fiery, mash-up that comes to us unexpectedly and out of nowhere from the shared experience. Sketching with a group of people, most of whom are no more comfortable with drawing than I am is commonality, and I can relax and let what happens happen because I’m not doing it alone. Doing crafty things with hands that are more comfortable on the keyboard of a laptop, while chatting and laughing and sharing the IMG_3775experience opens the creative floodgates in a very different way. It’s a much more gentle way, a way that doesn’t require the discipline and the focus that our day-in-day-out crafting of story does. Our encounters with the Muse in such circumstances are more playful, more laid back, and we toy with story and ideas in a way that we never can when we’re facing deadlines, when we have our heads down, still doing what we love, but so tunnel-visioned that we don’t look up to be inspired in the same way.

Smut Manchester was a beautiful chance to be inspired in playful easy ways. By being comfortably outside our comfort zone, we didn’t take ourselves so seriously and we were reminded in exquisite ways that creativity is a playful thing, and it often comes when we’re not looking for it. It often comes when we’re not looking for anything at all, actually.

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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