What happens when you have nothing to say but you've committed yourself to saying something?
That's when you write crap.
That's when you need to write like you're at the edge of a cliff, like you're scared, like you're about to die, like you don't know what's going to happen next.
This isn't about writer's block. This isn't even about finding your muse. This is about unleashing your passion, firing up your writing, releasing that sludge of unimaginable creative juice clogging your critical writer's mind.
However you do it, whatever you call it, every artist--writer, poet, painter, sculptor, etc.--needs to find a way to stick his hand down his throat and withdraw that hairy, slimy, gritty clog of filth that's blocking the juice of his work.
Try it. Close your eyes. Shut out the world. Hide inside a closet. Drive to a remote patch of dirt far from lights, sounds, people, animals. Crawl inside a cave. Whatever you can manage. Get there. Go there. Now.
Are you there?
Did you bring a journal?
No. No. No. Where we're going, we don't need any journals.
Sit inside your proverbial cave, melt within the darkness, shut out the world. What do you most fear? See it. Smell it. Go further. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Go deeper. Get pissed. Fight for your life. Fight for your family. Fight for what you love. Curse, yell, scream, punch, spit.
Keep your eyes closed.
Unmelt. Find a light inside. Who is it? What is it? Feel its warmth. Offer your gratitude. Sense a peace. Let this love, warmth, and calm wrap around you. Feel yourself as whole.
Open your eyes.
Find your way back to your writing place. Tell your story to you. It may be a few sentences, a few paragraphs, a page or more. It may be a poem, scraps of sentences and words, or an essay. Structure and form are unimportant. This is for your eyes only.
Now go back to your project. Who wants this energy? Who needs it? Let your experience breathe new life into your writing. Don't judge. Don't expect. Let it have its own path.
Make this part of your writing ritual.
Share your journey.
Whether you're a writer, artist, bus driver or parent, you have some kind of rhythm in your life. However, you might not be totally aware of it.
Saturday morning, my daughter sat down for her usual piano lesson. Despite the rising summer heat, her teacher sat on the couch in his typical attire, a three-piece suit and tie. Beads of sweat pooled on his forehead, but he was as jovial as ever. Daniel had a rhythm in his life, and he knew it.
He enjoys connecting with his students. It's evident in the laughter and banter exchanged with the eye-rolling youth who sit before him plucking away at black and white keys. Daniel either does not notice their indignance, or he ignores it. Maybe, he's just too busy sharing his own stories.
Daniel loves to tell stories almost as much as he loves teaching piano.
In between errant notes, he shares tales of "when I was your age". I sit upstairs, my ear tilted toward the doorway. I love Daniel's stories. At first, I thought, why is he wasting my daughter's time with his silly memories. Then I realized his stories had a purpose. His stories connect him to his students. They make him real, fallible, and vulnerable.
Deep down, my daughter adores her piano teacher. I don't know if she'll remember his stories; I do know that she'll take his passion and joy with her.
Piano teaching is his passion, but the stories that connect him to his students are his rhythm.
If writing is my passion, what's my rhythm?
It could be the joy I receive from writing, the connections I make to the reader, to myself. Writing can be a solitary task; you need to connect to those you write for. Otherwise, you lose the passion, the joy, the rhythm.
Whether it's a contemporary piece or genre specific like a horror or fantasy, you need to find that connection to your readers' lives. People love stories, but they want them to mean something.
How do you connect to your readers? What's your passion in life? What's your rhythm?
Kids love to share memories. Nothing beats a 10-year-old saying, "When I was little...". Memory defies time; even though as we age, we define our memories by time.
When I was a kid...
Last year, I remember...
This reminds me of when I was in college, and...
Memory defines us. Memory is experience, emotion, friendship. It is the collection of moments that form who we were and who we have become. There is an importance to memory.
So it shouldn't really surprise me when a young child wants to share her memories. Memories connect us.
This past month, I've been fortunate to spend several hours visiting and reading to elementary students. I have shared various chapters from my middle grade narrative, "This Girl Climbs Trees". In one class, I was moved to laughter and tears as students shared memories of trees in their lives. One girl told of a beautiful lemon tree that sat in the yard, from which they did not remove the fruit but which offered a place of shade and beauty until her father cut it down. Another boy told of a tree at his former home that the neighbor insisted be removed due to its invasive roots and dead leaves on their property. This injustice troubled the boy, and he insisted his family's next home have a tree further from any neighbor's yard. They just planted a Birch.
They have a wide front yard.
The students' stories inspired me. I had no idea that Eliza Mills (the central character) had so much in common with real live kids. I made up Eliza. I made up the entire story. Yet real children (and adults) continue to share with me their memories of a favorite tree.
So I'd like to offer this challenge: In 150 words or less, write a memory of your tree. How did you connect with it? What do you now observe as the importance of this tree, this memory? Post your short passage here or on your own site. Paste a link in the comments below so that we can read it.
You might be surprised what comes up as you explore the importance of memory. I'll post mine this week. You have forever, but I will shout out my favorite on Twitter next Sunday. Please connect with me there and leave your Twitter handle here. If you are under 18, please let me know so you can get your own awesome shout out!
Thanks! Good luck.
He published nearly 50 books for children, and when we think of him, we smile. Theodor Seuss Giesel mastered whimsey. His stories themselves sparkled with folly and fun. Add to the verse his nonsensical cartoons and caricatures of personality and you hold in your hand a ticket to the world's best carnival.
Most American children know at least one Seuss tale: "The Cat in the Hat", "Green Eggs and Ham", "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish". Children around the world also revel in his nonsensical rhymes and art. His words taught us to read, his stories taught us to wonder. Dr. Seuss mastered whimsey.
As a writer of young adult realistic fiction, you might wonder why I'd spend time reminiscing about an author for preschoolers. Young Adult fiction is a magical place. Our stories hold the hands of young people on the precipice of adulthood. We explore the loss of innocence, rites of passage, moral dilemmas, struggles with friendship, truth, vanity, family, and death. So did Dr. Seuss.
Sally and her brother must decide whether to partake in the Cat's fun and risk disappointing their mother. A boy feels the weight of the world on his shoulders and struggles with how to save the environment. A big clumsy elephant hears voices before he discovers a tiny unseen world, which he must now protect.
Dr. Seuss tackled large themes of youth, moral dilemmas, the conflict with self and society. Dr. Seuss provided plots and themes for adult tales. He did not forget us at that doorstep of darkness, he took our hand and guided us through to the other side of color, light and whimsey.
Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss. Thanks for the fun.
Writing begins in the imagination. Where, though, does the imagination begin?
If you've ever stood before a large aquarium with a group of school kids, you'll know that each child sees something a little different inside the tank. While the teacher talks about the food chain, the shark circling a school of sardines, or the lifecycle of a sponge, the child sees another universe. "Do you think that shark has a mother in here, too?" "I think the sponge knows when fish swim by. I think it likes their company." "If I were in there, I'd hide inside the rock cave and wait for a crab to come by so we could be friends."
Why does the child's imagination reach further beyond this present reality than an adult's? Why does ours so often begin with what is real and move only inches from it? One might say we are bogged down with so much of this reality (bills, family, health, world crises) that we haven't the same capacity to stretch and dream.
So we must shift our awareness, make room for the unreal, the potential of reality. Once we step back into that child's way of seeing, we can tap more easily into our own vastness. Perhaps in order to do this, we must remember what tickled our imagination as that child. What stirred the dust of truth and raised the possibility of the unknown and unreal?
When I need to stir up my uninhibited child's imagination, I spend time where a kid might. The zoo. A swing on a playground. Watching cartoons. I talk to kids. I remember.
Then I sit down and write. Having stirred up my child's imagination, I've infused my own with a way of seeing and believing beyond what is real.
What stirs your imagination?
As a child, my first favorite literary characters were detectives. Child detectives. I wanted to be Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown. I didn’t love the books for the esteemed literary merits. I loved them because I wanted to be those characters. I wanted to be smarter than them. Nancy was so clever. And she was kind.
Encyclopedia also shared those characteristics. He always put friendship first. He wanted to get the bad guy, not to punish him but to rid the world of cruelty and dishonesty.
These two teenage sleuths shaped my reading habits first, but they also were the essential ingredients to my writing. I don’t write mysteries today. In fact, I don’t read them anymore. What I read and what I write are stories with real characters. Stories with people who want the world to tilt more toward the good. My characters sense injustice, but they really want is to simply add more goodness to this world.
Life is a mystery, and we are its most important detectives. We are the heroes who see what’s wrong and seek to make it right.
Thank you Donald Sobel and Carolyn Keene (all of you!). You infused me with a love for reading, but mostly you inspired me to write stories with characters who care.
Who inspires you? Who are your childhood favorites? Share them here.
Something magical about the change of seasons. Like that moment the elevator meets its desired floor, the doors open, the cage settles, and you step out. It's a visible moment in time, unlike every other ordinary passing of seconds to minutes to hours that arrive and depart without fanfare.
Fall is over. Winter has arrived. Did you see it? Did you smell that instant when the earth offered its final tilt, the sun positioned itself just so? The solstice - an astronomical event that happens only twice each year. This is my 100th solstice. I mark the event with awe and humility.
I take this centennial celebration and embrace its magic, swallowing all of its beauty and mystery into the wondrous vessel of my being. Today, I am filled with magic. Today, this day of wonder. Let no moment pass without my knowing, that is my wish, that is my intention. Today, I am a snowflake, unique and ever-changing until I fall to earth. Today, I am suspended in the ethers, filled with possibilities yet unseen.