Monday, February 23, 2009

Limited Bandwidth: How Much Is too Much?

It's great to be busy, especially these days, until you're too busy to write or your energy is sapped by the realization that the writing field has nearly reached saturation point. I recently attended a group that just a year ago would have considered twenty writers a boon, especially on a weekend. This time there were seventy-five. I almost left. I didn't realize how important the uniqueness of writing is to me until it felt like part of my identity was being erased. It was like suddenly learning you have a twin. I decided to face the fear and stay, but as the speaker began I pulled out a pad and listed reasons why I write. Publication wasn't first on the list. I write primarily because I've always been drawn to it. I'm what Betsey Lerner referred to in Forest for the Trees as a natural writer. "The natural writer would almost always rather be reading, writing, or alone …" Thankfully, I got enough perspective to enjoy the talk. Good thing—the topic was how difficult it is to get published.

To put today's musing into action, check out the writing tip at the top of the list below. As always, let us know how it goes.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Flashpoint Inspiration: Rembrandt in Your Attic and Memoirs of a Geisha

What would we do without moments when inspiration strikes like cloud to ground lightening? I've had a copy of Memoirs of a Geisha on my shelf for, well, since author Arthur Golden was the keynote at a National Writers Workshop some years ago. I hadn't read the book and stuffed it into my bag. While waiting for the train (what else is there in life these days), I pulled it out, and as I sometimes do, turned to any page. Here's what I read on a dreary February morning. In Chapter 9, the protagonist is musing about a moth, really about her mother, who along with her father has died. She realizes she has felt dead, too, but that she's not—she's alive. " … I felt as though I'd turned around to look in a different direction, so that I no longer faced backward toward the past but forward toward the future." She wonders what the future will be. Suddenly, she realizes she will receive a sign, as a result of a man in a dream who tells her: "Watch for the thing that will show itself to you. Because that thing, when you find it, will be your future." The scene was so elegantly framed, the scenario so finely drawn, it was finding a Rembrandt in the attic and feasting on the wonderful placement of light.

To put today's musing into inaction, see the tip at the top of the list. As always, let us know how it goes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Without Glasses: Seeing the World With New Eyes

While driving the long and winding road to the train station before dawn, I realized I forgot my glasses. How would I see my laptop, besides zooming in so close I'd see about a word a page? Maybe I wouldn’t write, or read. Maybe I'd look out the window at the stands of pines along the track, watch the sunrise over the Norwalk River, see things I haven't seen in a while, or not at all. But to not write—after all those entries pushing people to write, no matter what? I felt decadent, but the more I contemplated taking that cheap vacation of looking out the window, the more enthusiastic I became. It doesn't take much these days to find a bit of happiness. Anything decent will do. When I reached the station, I found my glasses, but I decided to look out the window anyway. The result? A bit of living, essential to writing—and life. "From the time of Greek science till now, Western culture has usually had a lively, unselfish, and intellectual interest in the phenomenal world for its own sake." Annie Dillard, in Living by Fiction. Go ahead, indulge.

To put today's musing into inaction, see the tip at the top of the list. As always, let us know how it goes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Letting the Dust Settle: Settling Down to Write

The only thing worse than not having time to write is not using the time when you get it. In this fragmented, fractured world, where activities are sandwiched in like so many bologna slices, it's hard to stake out writing time, but it can be just hard to use it. Why? Because it's difficult to settle down to do the actual writing. I find it easier to write on the train than at home. The train is compartmentalized, literally, and I can close myself off to my surroundings because the space isn't mine; I'm not responsible for it. At home, everything calls my name, and there can be more than a little sense of guilt in taking time to put a word on paper, cyber or otherwise. But it has to be done, and we can't always wait until we feel comfortable enough to do it. "My cabin here on Remnant Acres is finished—more or less. As I sit at the table writing, I can see a few cracks to be sealed before the cold weather hits. And I must put a sealer on the exterior. But those are small tasks to be done later." Poet, John Leax in Grace Is Where I Live.

How does one approach the wide-open spaces, wherever they are, to settle down and write? To put this musing into practice, see the writing tip at the top of the list, and let us know how it goes.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Summer: You Have to Be a Happy Person

You have to be a happy person to enjoy summer—it's the season everything is "out there," our bodies on the beach, people in outdoor cafés, the sun in splendor, lighting and warming everyplace. It's hard for a melancholy type to enjoy such exposure. Though I was born in July, I was a winter baby. I enjoyed darkness, cold, hibernation. As time passes, I'm increasingly drawn to summer—light, warmth, people. I still enjoy solitude, but I enjoy it more in company. Sound like a non sequitur? Ever go into a café and see how many people sit alone, enjoying a moment of calm? Yet, they're out there in company, experiencing and observing—vital aspects of humanity, and the creative process. In a 2004 interview with the U.K.-based Independent, Bob Dylan noted that a vital part of his creative process evaporated when he was forced into seclusion to write. "Creativity has much to do with experience, observation and imagination, and if any one of those key elements is missing, it doesn't work." Ideas, like seeds under snow, may be planted in dark days, but their full bloom comes in summer. As we in winter climes await the sun, we can imagine those days and use the experience that germinates from the light of our imagination to create.
Put today's musing into action with the writing tip at the top of the list, and let us know how it goes.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Old Conductors Never Die: Writing in Motion

Old conductors never die, so the saying goes; they just take the midnight train to Georgia. I'd like to take credit for that observation, but somebody else made it, someone on the evening commuter train from New York's Grand Central Station to the Connecticut suburbs. Not only did the comment give us all within earshot a good laugh—somebody picked up the thread of the comment and started singing "Midnight Train to Georgia"—it also gave me an idea, not just for this blog, but for an article or a short piece on conductors, maybe a sitcom about commuters. It also reminded me of the importance of listening to and reporting—my journalism roots are showing again—what's around me. Overheard conversations make wonderful titles, whether short fiction, articles or novels, and they are instructive in how people converse. This exchange was made by older people; you can tell partly because of how one topic split off to another, a fairly common tendency among older folk. Yet, if I hadn't had my writers' hat on (I was working on the novel), I might not have taken notice. Okay, I did need a blog entry, but taking note of the ordinary can make for something extraordinary. "Writers write about things that other people don’t pay much attention to." Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

To put this musing into motion, check out the writing tip at the top of the list, and let us know how it goes.