Writing Requires Guts

It has been said our gut is our second brain, and for more reasons beyond writing, I believe it’s true.  I’ll save you all the ghastly details and stick to my writing gut issues.

When a story line hits me, it pulls me in deep.  I get tunnel vision.  I can see the plot playing out as if I’m watching a movie.  With every key stroke I take my characters through the events that will forever change their lives.  Sometimes I’m as surprised as they are when something happens or someone unexpected shows up in a scene.  The bones that provide the structure for my pieces come from my gut.

Then I continue on to another part of the story.  Those earlier scenes are left to settle.  When the dust clears, I look over my shoulder and start to doubt what I wrote.  Is this character convincing?  Does that relationship work?  The next thing I know, I’m deleting sections and replacing them with what I think the reader might enjoy more.  The whole time, there is a tight feeling in my belly telling me to stop.  My gut informing me that the structure was there.  If I keep dissecting it, I’m going to bring the whole thing crashing to the ground.

I had a little lesson this week.  I made the mistake of digging back into the opening scenes of my main manuscript.  Despite glowing reviews from my beta readers, I wondered if I could make it better.  I started deleting.  Hundreds of words wiped from the file.  I didn’t want to get my documents confused, so I did a new backup and deleted the first version.  Then I resubmitted to my betas.  Guess what?  The first pass was the best.  Did it require edits?  Of course!  Should the story’s structure have been changed?  No!  Do I have the original to work with?  No, because I’m a dumb ass.  Thankfully the first version’s PDF was floating around on my hard drive.  I can’t copy and paste as I lose my formatting, but I do have the opportunity to retype those scenes.  I am viewing that task like writing “I will label my backups by date.  I will not delete them.” on the chalkboard one hundred times.

My stories are like children.  Each one unique with different needs and personalities.  As a parent to a real little girl, I have learned that if my gut tells me something, I better go with it.  Ignoring is a mistake every time.  It’s time to save my sanity and my tummy and go with my gut every time with my writing.  May this post save you the word casualties I have suffered.

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Quick Hello

It’s cold and rainy on the Palouse this morning.  I had to turn the heat back on and am snuggled in my bed waiting for it to kick in.  I’ve been neglecting the blog for the last couple of weeks, so I figured I should stop by and say hello.

Writing is going well, I think.  I’ve been doing a lot of it anyway.  Getting a manuscript first draft done by the beginning of August is my goal, so I have really dug in and made that my focus.  Thus, my absence on the blog.  However, I have been updating my Facebook page and Twitter account almost daily with random thoughts and writing progress.  Go ahead and check those out if you really want to stay in my crazy loop.  It’s good for a giggle anyway.  The last couple of days I have looked like this:

beaker7 I’ve been reworking some details in the fairy tale I’m spinning.  It’s required some math and research.  There is a very good possibility it could turn into a series.  Stay tuned, friends!

Three Feathers by Stefan Bolz

Sometimes a story must be told.  It swells within the writer’s heart until it bursts forth onto paper.  The Three Feathers-The Magnificent Journey of Joshua Aylong by Stefan Bolz is one of these tales.

A young rooster leaves the confines and the comfort of his pen and embarks on an epic journey that will change his life and the lives of everyone he encounters along the way.  This book epitomizes the power of friendship, facing your fears, believing in yourself, and the possibility that there is something in this universe that’s much larger than us.  Three Feathers delivers hope and encouragement and is a reminder that no matter how black times can get good always triumphs over evil, and light will always pierce darkness.

This story moved me and challenged me.  Bolz’s writing style is not as crisp as many mainstream authors.  There are sections of the book that become a bit redundant, but at the end of the day the tale is compelling and well worth the read.

The unlikely trio of friends (a rooster, a wolf, and a warhorse) are well-developed and Bolz’s imagery is powerful.  The world he created was vivid in my imagination.  My favorite thing to picture was the rooster riding the warhorse.  Makes me smile just to think of it.

If you are feeling like your life is small and insignificant, I suggest you pick up Three Feathers and take a trip with Joshua.  You won’t set it down without being changed.

The Power of 10 Minutes

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg is my current favorite writing book.  Her guide to ten minute writing sessions has been extremely helpful to me in developing a daily writing habit (although I always do a minimum of 15-20 minutes).  However, I discovered my friend, Dena Clayton, from Love Revealed Stories had already written the perfect tribute to the ten minute timed writing model.  Why invent the wheel when Dena can tell you all about it?

Ten-Minute Writings: Inspiring, Connecting, Jump Starting

by DENA on APRIL 11, 2013

Writing helped me through the first months and years after my husband died. Early on, it was a sort of informal journal of dumping onto a page whatever was swirling in my head. Along the way, the writing took on various eclectic forms. I captured the essence of dreams. I wrote Seussical nonsense rhymes. I jotted ideas, shopping lists, and must-accomplish tasks. I expressed deep gratitude in letters to family and friends for the ways they helped me. I poured my heart into letters to my departed husband. I wrote comfort notes to the parts inside me that felt broken. I even followed an assignment from a bereavement class: I wrote as if the date was five years later and I was telling a friend about my current life.

Several months into the new territory called widowhood, something unexpected and wonderful happened. Sheila, the leader of a women’s spiritual community in which I had participated for many years, offered a new focus on creativity for the next year’s work together. A dozen women or so signed on with gusto.

We painted, collaged, and danced. We wrote poetry, sang, drew, and made music. We did a lot of writing. We paired modalities, such as dancing a painting, collaging a poem. We witnessed one another’s courage in sharing our creations. All of these activities felt freeing and life affirming to me. My absolute favorite new endeavor was being introduced to ten-minute writings. Natalie Goldberg tells of the usefulness of these brief exercises in her book, Writing Down the Bones. She describes it in terms of a writer’s tool. I discovered it has much broader applications.

The following are my translations. These are ways I have engaged the exercises over the past decade. Below, you will find the how-to as well as possible benefits, and approaches to using this exercise on your own and with others.

10-Minute Writings, by yourself:

* Choose any idea or question that comes to mind or is pertinent to your purpose
* Set a timer for 10 minutes.
* Begin with a word or phrase about your topic (i.e., “I like 10-minute writings because . . . “).
* Write or type without stopping – and without caring about grammar, punctuation, capital letters, anything. If you get stuck for something to write, either write the opening phrase over and over again or write blah-blah-blah-blah (my favorite) until something shakes loose. When we write without stopping, the inner editor/inner critic is by-passed.

~ ~ Benefits ~ Some benefits I have experienced:

* shifting to a brighter mood;
* feeling more creative;
* discovering possible solutions to cares or dilemmas;
and, wonder of wonders,
* melting away of procrastination.

I want to say a bit more regarding procrastination. When there is a large or small project I notice I have been putting off, sitting down to do 10 straight minutes of writing has worked wonders. It takes the pressure off. All I do is remind myself I am simply jump starting by writing anything at all about it – even spitting out my frustration or other feelings about it – during a 10-minute period of time. When the timer goes off, if I am in a groove and feel like continuing, I do.

10-Minute Writings, 2 or more people:

The directions are the same as for doing the exercise on your own; see the 4 steps in the list above.

* One difference is to decide together on the topic. At times, you might choose for all participants to follow their own topic selections.
* One person sets a timer or volunteers to be the timekeeper.
* Once the writing has stopped – even mid-sentence – all are invited to read aloud what they drafted.Very important ~ The duty of listeners is to witness in silence and to refrain from offering feedback in any way (no praise nor criticism); safety for folks to share their raw ramblings aloud is created by the neutral acceptance of silence. Sometimes I find I am pressing my lips together to keep from exclaiming, “That was fantastic!” Some of what gets written is very funny, and we are allowed to laugh – and laugh and laugh and . . .

~ ~ Benefits ~ Some benefits I have experienced or observed:

* all the ones listed above;
* fun;
* deepening of friendships.

One of my favorite activities with friends is to gather at a coffee shop or in one of our
homes and do a few 10-minute writings together. Some of us used to get together in this way once or twice a month at a local Panera’s Bakery. Looking back, we realized those evenings were seeds for what became the Hilltop Writers circle, a monthly writing group hosted by my dear friend, Susan. Several of the Hilltoppers have essays in one or more of the three Love Revealed books.

Additional Applications

I have used 10-minute writings:

* as part of individual sessions with clients and students;
* in bereavement support groups; and,
* in retreats on meditation, inner process exploration, and sock-puppets-of-the-mind.

How about you – have you ever used 10-minute writings or similar approaches?

In terms of procrastination, how do you get yourself back on track?

What ideas are stimulated by something you read in today’s topic?

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Warring With Short Stories

I’ve never been a fan of short stories.  My college creative writing professors made sure I read the most oddball, disgusting, bumpy penis riddled pieces of short fiction they could find.  Therefore, I could only assume you had to be brimming with repressed or over expressed sexual issues to create acceptable short stories.

Fast forward ten or twelve years.  Last night I finished reading Sherman Alexie’s War Dances.  A collection of short stories.  What possessed me to pick it up as I was drifting through the library with my daughter?  The red running shoes on the cover for starters.  Yes, sometimes I choose books like I select wine: a cool cover must mean it’s a good read.  Second, Alexie is a fellow Coug.  I’ve been hearing about his brilliance since I stepped onto WSU’s campus in 1997.  However, I only knew him as a poet or an author of short stories.  So not my things.  But, those damn red running shoes drew me in, and next thing I knew, War Dances was in my bag.

Let’s just say Alexie grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go until the last page.  Yes, there are definitely some issues and angst, penis talk and the F-word.  Somehow they didn’t offend me or seem gratuitous.  Maybe my mind is a tad bit more open and less innocent than it was in those early college years.

I really related with the piece titled Fearful Symmetry.  The man who lost his writing confidence because of the people who felt empowered to judge and shred his work could be me.  People who didn’t understand where he came from.  People he just needed to blow off so he could rediscover himself and grow once again.  This spoke to my heart.  This is where I come from.

Yesterday afternoon I checked out Joyland.  This website calls itself “a hub for short fiction.  I read a piece called Divestment that moved me to tears.  I could actually see into my lost grandmother’s mind as she slowly lost her grasp on reality.  The powerlessness to control her own world.  We all thought she was just being stubborn.  Divestment was raw and real, but mercifully clean.  My mind was opened even more to the possibilities of short stories.

Aside from the craziness of the short story, I often felt they led nowhere, were incomplete.  This past week’s reading made me realize I just hadn’t read any good ones yet.

Some passages seemed like paragraphs from my journal.  The words seemed like a sweet release for the writer, and the cogs in my head began to turn in a new direction.  Am I walking away from my novel?  No way!  However, I am excited to play with a new way to express myself.  Every writer needs a wide variety of tools in their tool belt in order to hone their craft.  I have an empty loop in which I will now hang short stories.