Tiny Stories.

Hey guys! A whole week has gone by, and I’m still breathing. In fact, I discovered a new exercise that I can totally do, even when times are rough.

Write hundred-word stories. Come on, even at our worst, we can write a hundred words, right? Or if that’s too much, try fifty. The exact word count isn’t that important, the point is more just to give yourself an achievable goal so that you can feel like you’ve accomplished something. Write just one a day, and who knows? You might be able to write yourself out of your slump sooner than you imagined. At worst, you’ll have a ton of little sketches that you can potentially expand on later.

I’ve been doing that this week, and I think it’s going okay. The nice thing is, they don’t even have to be finished stories. They can be little slices of life that can lead your thoughts down new paths. It will still work.

So that’s really all I have to say today. If you’re struggling with your writing for whatever reason (depression, life intrusions, or just too danged busy), give yourself a tiny word count and go for it.

TTFN.

Lost Enough to Find Yourself.

Directive

Robert Frost  

Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.
The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost,
May seem as if it should have been a quarry—
Great monolithic knees the former town
Long since gave up pretense of keeping covered.
And there’s a story in a book about it:
Besides the wear of iron wagon wheels
The ledges show lines ruled southeast-northwest,
The chisel work of an enormous Glacier
That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole.
You must not mind a certain coolness from him
Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.
Nor need you mind the serial ordeal
Of being watched from forty cellar holes
As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.
As for the woods’ excitement over you
That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,
Charge that to upstart inexperience.
Where were they all not twenty years ago?
They think too much of having shaded out
A few old pecker-fretted apple trees.
Make yourself up a cheering song of how
Someone’s road home from work this once was,
Who may be just ahead of you on foot
Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.
The height of the adventure is the height
Of country where two village cultures faded
Into each other. Both of them are lost.
And if you’re lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
Then make yourself at home. The only field
Now left’s no bigger than a harness gall.
First there’s the children’s house of make-believe,
Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,
The playthings in the playhouse of the children.
Weep for what little things could make them glad.
Then for the house that is no more a house,
But only a belilaced cellar hole,
Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.
This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
Your destination and your destiny’s
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.
(We know the valley streams that when aroused
Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)
I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can’t find it,
So can’t get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn’t.
(I stole the goblet from the children’s playhouse.)
Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.

My mostest favoritest poem by Robert Frost. Also his most Eliot-ish. I wonder if there’s a correlation there?

Also my Introvert Manifesto. Let me draw your particular attention to the lines,

“And if you’re lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
Then make yourself at home.”

Makes me want to cry in the best possible way.

Don’t even talk to me about the last two lines.

Breathing through the Meltdown.

When I was little, I would occasionally  have meltdowns. As did most of us, I’m guessing. One of the things I remember most distinctly is how my mom would stand calmly in front of me and simply say “Breathe.”

Of course, I didn’t really appreciate that at the time. My thoughts were usually something along the lines of “What are you talking about, breathe? I’m busy melting down here, and breathing is NOT a priority. Sobbing is.”

I was like four years old, okay? Don’t judge.

Nearly twenty-two years have passed since that time, and I’m proud to announce that I now handle meltdowns like a pro.

Sometimes.

At other times, not so much.

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Now maybe nobody has noticed, but over the last couple of weeks my blog posts have (subtly or not so subtly) been little rah-rah pep talks that amount to “I’m not experiencing writer’s block. No, no, of course not. It’s just a little momentary hiccup. I’ll be fine.” Meanwhile my brain has been screaming “You’re not fine!”

Ugh. I’m not fine. The writing has been going slowly and steadily down the tube for close to a month. It started with an inability to figure out endings (what else is new), then progressed to an inability to move things beyond the little anonymous conversations that take place on one of the tracks in my brain. Now it’s reached a point where even my little brain-dwelling babblers have shut up. I haven’t even picked up my notebook in four days.

Normally when inspiration is on a low ebb, I use it as time to revise the junk I wrote when inspiration was happening. Not this time. I’m terrified to even open my last NaNovel, because just the thought of seeing the trash I’m capable of churning out when I have a deadline has me wanting to burst into tears. Hello, four-year-old self, I didn’t know you were still in there.

But this morning, I suddenly remembered how my mom tried to counsel me through the meltdowns all those years ago, and I think I might be okay. In this case, “breathing” means reminding myself that even if I haven’t been writing, I’ve been doing a lot of good productive reading, which can teach just as much as doing the actual work. Also, it’s a reminder that even writing one measly paragraph is progress. If I can feel myself REALLY spiraling out of control, breathing means turning my brain off completely, like doing ballet barre work that forces me to focus all my attention on tiny nuances of motion and stillness.

Listening to something soothing also helps.

We all know that allowing ourselves to have full-on meltdowns never leads to anything productive, even if the meltdown is in reaction to the fact that NOTHING ELSE is leading to anything productive. Panicking has never saved anybody. So I’m allowing myself (forcing myself) to breathe, and reminding myself that life is like Bolognese.

Does anybody else out there have good “breathing” tactics? I’d love to hear them.

Rambling about a Dead Language.

I’m really into listening to Old English at the moment. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I’m reading The Hobbit for the first time (Nope, I never read it as a kid. I know, horrible, right?), or maybe it’s just because I’m a nerd. At some point I’d like to give the language a study, but right now I can barely squeeze in time for the modern languages I’m trying to master, let alone ancient ones, so I just listen.

Exciting and soothing at the same time, somehow, isn’t it?

Here’s a bit of Beowulf, if you want some dramatic singing.

So yeah. By the way, has anybody out there read Beowulf? I read Seamus Heaney’s translation last year, and I actually loved it. It was so cheerfully and unabashedly testosterone-fueled. It reminded me of watching Marvel’s Thor movies. It was like, “Yeah, he’s spent a few days underwater doing battle with monsters. Without scuba equipment. Wanna make something out of it?” Joyous.

 

Tips from Other People, Part One

I’m rapidly approaching the editing stage for my own novel, and honestly, I’m dreading it. I love editing other people’s work, but self-editing is a different beast entirely. Usually by the time a novel is finished, I’ve become so familiar with every word they start to blur together, and it’s hard for me to see […]

via 4 Tips for Self Editing — Million Words

 

This here is a lovely set of tips for when it comes time to edit your own work, including the idea of getting a website to read aloud for you. I don’t know about any of you people, but I have a really hard time reading my work out loud during the editing process, because what if somebody HEARS me??? So much nicer to shove on a big pair of headphones and keep it private until I’m sure it’s ready for public consumption.

In the blog post, Sarah Kay Moll suggests https://www.naturalreaders.com/ for the purpose. I tried it out, and it’s probably one of the better text-to-speech generators I’ve come across. There are plenty of voice options, so you can select one that works well with your writing. Of course, it’s all automated, so there is still a sense that your work is being recited by Stephen Hawking. But what an honor that would be, am I right? It’s good for visions of glory, or just for a giggle, which can be healthy during the editing process, I find.

Malignant Rigidities.

You know that feeling you get when you’re sitting with a blank notebook, a sudden urge to write? I don’t have it.

With apologies to Captain Jack Sparrow, this misquote exactly summed up my state of being over the past few days. It wasn’t writer’s block exactly. I knew what I should have been doing, and I knew how it needed to be done, essentially. But there I was, teetering on the edge, staring down into the abyss, and I was overcome by a dangerous mix of not wanting to mess up, believing I needed to know where I was heading before I could begin, and all sorts of silly rules and regulations I made up in my mind about how to go about putting words on paper.

I told myself these attitudes were silly, and that I should have been over all this nonsense by now. That, of course, didn’t help any, and I found myself reading prose poetry this morning instead of writing; completely bound up and unable to take the plunge.

And then in came an excerpt of Kora in Hell, by William Carlos Williams, to save the day. A single quote stopped me in my tracks.

“Having once taken the plunge the situation that preceded it becomes obsolete which a moment before was alive with malignant rigidities.”

Malignant rigidities. What a phrase. It goes beyond fears to get at all the other things that can keep us rooted to the spot, not experiencing the joy of free creation.

It reminded me of the experience of zip-lining; the seeming impossibility of ever leaving the platform, and then the exhilarating freedom of “why not?” as soon as you do.

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And it’s true, isn’t it? As soon as we take the plunge, all of those silly things cease to have any power.

I wish there were more that I could share about this, like how to identify our own personal malignant rigidities, or how to go about digging them out of our lives permanently, but I don’t have any of that figured out yet. If I ever do, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, isn’t it good to know how easy they are to vanquish?

Quintessence Pure.

It’s World Poetry Day, you guys. This is a fantastic piece of serendipity, because I have some poetry to share with you guys. Not my own poetry. I won’t disrespect the day like that. Milton’s poetry.

I’ve been slowly working my way through Paradise Lost, which is absolutely amazing, and at its best when read aloud. This morning I began Book VII, which is a picture of how the universe was created, and got so enthralled that I brought it along with me and read it out to the weird little creature I get to hang out with twice a week while his family is away.

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I don’t think he has much appreciation for poetry, to be quite honest. So I’m going to try a bit of it on you and see what happens. This bit happens to be when God separates light from darkness.

Let there be light; said God, and forthwith light
Ethereal, first of things, quintessence pure,
Sprung from the deep, and from her native east
To journey through the airy gloom began,
Spher’d in a radiant cloud, for yet the sun
Was not; she in a cloudy tabernacle
Sojourn’d the while. God saw the light was good;
And light from darkness by the hemisphere
Divided: light the day, and darkness night
He nam’d. Thus was the first day even and morn.
Nor pass’d uncelebrated, nor unsung
By the celestial choirs, when orient light
Exhaling first from darkness they beheld;
Birth-day of heaven and earth, with joy and shout
The hollow universal orb they fill’d,
And touch’d their golden harps, and hymning prais’d
God and his works, Creator him they sung,
Both when first evening was, and when first morn.

There. Isn’t that gorgeous? There’s plenty more where that came from, too, but I’ll spare you such a lengthy post as this could easily become.

Good gosh, that was some funky syntax. I’m going to leave it though.

Don’t Ignore Your Facets.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m deep in a writing project, I can tend to forget about everything else. And not only when I’m actually doing the work of writing, but all the time. There are times when this should probably be a problem, like when I forget to keep up with basic laundry and bathroom cleaning and such, but I forget to even consider it a problem. And then there are other times when it’s really a problem, and I can feel little bits of myself shriveling up and falling off.

And that’s not good.

Most recently, the shriveling-bit has been my visual artist self. I’ve been ignoring my need to create beautiful things for quite a while, and it wasn’t until last week that I began to notice that my soul was whimpering. In fact, when I went to fix the problem, I discovered that by all rights it should have been shrieking, because I was so enmeshed in the writing side of me that I. Couldn’t. Remember. How. To. Draw.

I’m not even joking. I just sat staring at my pencil like…

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Fortunately, by that time I had awakened to the magnitude of the problem, so I persevered. If drawing wasn’t going to happen, maybe cutting up bits of paper and gluing them down would.

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I think it turned out okay, don’t you?

Since then, I’ve decided to embark on a series of collages, in order to give myself a solid goal that I can’t ignore. Now all I have to do is make sure the visual artist side doesn’t squeeze out the writer side. But this blog and my writer’s group should take care of that.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that it’s important to stay balanced. Even if you’re in the middle of something major, don’t let yourself become so obsessive that you neglect other parts of yourself.

Because we’re all magnificently multi-faceted beings that should be allowed to flourish. No shriveling.

No Matter.

“No matter who you are, no matter where you live, and no matter how many people are chasing you, what you don’t read is often as important as what you do read.”

-Lemony Snicket, Horseradish

A little follow-up on my last post.

By the way, if you haven’t read Horseradish yet, you totally need to.

Where the Inner and Outer Intersect.

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post encouraging writers to explore their favorite books in order to learn more about themselves as writers. As I stated at the time, I couldn’t remember where I discovered the exercise.

Well, I have found it. In a whole huge stack of papers that somehow got shuffled into an old shoebox and forgotten about. Story of my life, y’all. Fortunately, I had noted the title and author of the original article, so I am now pleased to present to you:

The Original Article!

The process is based on discovering the point at which our inner (personal experience) and outer (favorite book) stories overlap, with the idea that that is where our deepest and most resonant stories (as in, the ones we should probably be writing) come from.

Worth taking a look at, people. What we read can tell us a lot about ourselves as writers, if we give it a chance. It’s only a four-step process, but it can really help us to define what themes we are drawn to.