The Beautiful Writers Workshop #9: Mental Floss

My daughter and I recently had an interesting discussion due to a class assignment on mental health concerning OCD, depression, and various other mental challenges. Trying to explain some of the behaviors and levels of severity made me think about my own quirks and habits that can be both positive and bordering on detrimental.

 

Creativity comes with certain mental “flourishes” that often translate into some pretty tortured souls out there, creating brilliant works of art, whether it be through paint, words, sculpture or music. In fact, I think society tends to think one almost must be tortured in some way to create.

I was listening to an interesting podcast with Florence, from Florence and The Machine, and along with her brilliant Scottish accent I was captivated by her story of alcoholism and how she used to think she had to drink to be creative. That she had to suffer, and to be spiraling down to really get to the good stuff of the soul and write music that mattered.

But then she sobered up and realized that it actually got easier to write without the heavy chained idea that suffering is the only way to make meaningful art.

It got me to thinking about how we can turn the chaos inside, into something beautiful by not fearing it. By not suppressing it or numbing it. By accepting the quirk that is you.

It’s like the person with OCD who uses their energies to post-it the hell out of an outline instead of writing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” five-hundred times.

It’s all about how we use our quirks.

This week’s workshop is about finding your quirk. I don’t just want the strange dance you do when you walk through a spiderweb kind of quirk. I want the chronic kind. The one that makes you desperate for a piece of wood to knock on when the slightest terrifying thought crosses your mind. Or that makes you have to park in the same spot at the grocery store, every time.

Write a bit about your quirk, then go a level deeper and see what comes up. Why do you think you do it? Do you remember when it started? What fear drives it? What desire does it fulfill or captivate inside of you?

How can you shift it to work towards your advantage in your life and in your writing?

If you can’t think of anything, can you use your quirk IN writing as a character trait and follow how it changes your character’s life, behavior, and relationships. Write a poem about it and get past the grizzle and into the bone, or find the ridiculous humor of it to laugh at.

Self-reflection isn’t always easy and we often discover things we didn’t know were hiding in there. You aren’t required to share, but allow yourself to hurdle over the fear and discomfort to know thyself a bit better. Turn your downward spirals into whirlwind of thought and brilliance. See you next week.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #7

Hello!

 

With all of the excitement of last week’s book release (oh my god, here’s a link! Go buy it, it’s fantastic! Impress all your friends with the cultured look of carrying around a poetry book–classy my friend, very classy: No Small Things: The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology 2019-2020) and a very personally busy week, I missed last Thursday’s lesson.

That’s probably going to happen from time to time in the next few months. I am in a strange season in my life and coping with some heavy changes. Add to that work, kids, parents, and school and I’m lucky I even remember to put on pants in the morning.

So–there may be some weeks that come and go without my lovely presence streaming across the ‘universe’ at you, but rest assured, I’ll always come back. And here I am. So let us commence.

This weeks creative exercise is really short and easy so I’m asking that you do it twice.

1.) Pull out the dictionary

*Don’t have one? What? Shut the front door! Every household should have a dictionary. Fine. Ugh. Go online if you must toWho Doesn’t Own a Dictionary?

2.) If you’re an actual writer with a dictionary (yeah, I said that…I don’t cut often but when I do, I cut deep) blow the dust off. If you’re using the internet, order a dictionary then continue on (free snark given to those not owning a dictionary)

3.) Flip to a random page and chose a random word. Read all about it, and then…

4.) Take that word, and the one before it and after it and compose a 500-1000-word short story using those three words.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

If you want a little something more, do it again (or use the same three) and write a poem using those words.

Okay, there you go. I’d better go put my old nose back to the grindstone. Happy Writing.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Week #4 Hear Me Out

 

Last week we explored some fun little writing prompts (by the way, I’m all aquiver in anticipation for those to start rolling in so…don’t keep a lady waiting, it isn’t polite). I hope that you found out something fun, disturbing, and original to spark some new projects. You clever writer, I bet they are fabulous (send them in)!

This week, in order to give your creative noodle a break, I thought I’d switch more to the editorial aspect of writing. Specifically, the sound of our writing and what it means for our readers.

Whether it’s poetry meant to be read aloud, stumbling through your first chapter at a promotional event, or having your book read by a parent to their child, the flow and sound of your “writing voice” matters and reading it out loud changes a lot about what you can only see on the page.

So, let’s talk about the benefits of using oral…

laugh

Okay. Sorry, that was the fifteen-year-old boy part of my brain thinking he’s clever.

Ahem.

Apologies.

This exercise doesn’t take much effort and is an easy way to edit a work in progress that may be in its final stages of completion. Or, if you’re a poet, this is by far the best way to gauge the power and purpose of your work.

Print out a chapter of your novel, a poem, or a short story (I suppose you can use your device or laptop—the girl who loves the feeling of paper between her fingers sighs to the encroaching dominance of technology).

Then read that piece out loud either to yourself or to your unwilling cat.

adorable angry animal animal portrait
*note: It isn’t that your cat doesn’t like your work, I’m just saying cats don’t, in general, like anything that doesn’t meet their own needs, and writing that does anything but pay homage to their divinity, tends to fall short in their demographic. (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

 

If you don’t have an audience, I encourage you to use a mirror.

Read vibrantly, read purposefully, read with intonation and depth. Meet your eyes in that mirror and feel the story, the dialogue; that stanza of hard cutting thought.

You will start to hear your particular voice emerge and you will also find editorial errors that are invisible during the brash sweep of only eyes without the mouth getting involved.

So, get your mouth involved (*snicker* *snort*)

Oh man… come on!

I think I’ll stop there for the week.

Go read your stuff out loud. Make marks on the paper (or device) where you notice inconsistencies, mistakes, or ‘not right’ words.

Change them, make it better.

I’ll catch you next Tuesday for exciting news about the Poetry Anthology.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop Week #3: Ten Ridiculous First Lines

As promised, here is this week’s workshop in form of a creativity drill. No stuffy mission statements or essays on the purpose of your writing and future endeavors in the field. Just good ol’ fashioned prompting. Enjoy!

Writing can often become stagnant. Let’s face it, we are caught in the grooves of our lives and sometimes a fresh idea is hard to come by. Even if we do stumble upon it, someone else has inevitably done it before and we’re left with the blank-page-stare, wondering if we’ll ever have that audacious lightning bolt that will shock the world awake with its brilliance.

I’ve been reading a little bit of Russell Edson’s short work and he has the most fascinating way of taking something mundane and jolting the reader with the unexpected. Edson would sit down at his typewriter and belt out ten first lines, no editing, just whatever strange little tail of a thought was hanging in the forefront of his brain:

“A man wants an airplane to like him”

Or

“A husband and wife discover that their children are fakes”

Or

“The household toilet wants to be loved and leaves when it isn’t”

 

What came of these lines is ridiculous and beautiful and like nothing I’ve ever read.

 

And that’s your FUN assignment for the week:

Write ten ridiculous lines

Pair things that don’t go, give life to the inanimate, sauté a hat, use the perspective of a floor or the voice of a garden snail. Make a shoelace dance round a fire at Burning Man. I don’t care; just be extraordinary.

Bonus: Take your favorite one or two lines and whip out a flash fiction piece (500 words tops).

Go play. Send me your favorites, don’t let them sit, face down on your desk, not bringing joy.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Welcome!

Good morning writers, authors, editors or accidental guests.

This is the inaugural blog for The Beautiful Writers Workshop, a year-long journey into developing your craft through exercises in creativity, editing techniques, inspirational prompts, and building the framework for your writing career.

Some of the blogs will inspire. Some blogs will lean more to the technical side of writing. But whatever the weekly topic, you can be assured of two things:

  • You’ll have a prompt or exercise to help develop your writing (and the opportunity to share it)
  • I’ll try to keep it spicy enough to be enjoyable.

 

So let’s get rolling! I searched through nearly all of my favorite books on writing for a perfect topic for our first lesson together but the truth is, there are just too many (good and bad) ideas out there.

So I’m going to start simple and ease you in gently to this process.

If you’re here you are either interested in writing, or are already doing it and are looking for something to add to your tool box. In order to appeal to all levels today’s workshop is centered on the basic purpose of your writing.

Below are a few questions that I’d like you to read, think about, and journal down your answers to. You can share them, you can keep them secret, but DO WRITE THEM DOWN.

Something amazing happens when we write down goals and steps to reaching them. The process becomes manageable; the goals become real. It’s one of the many beautiful and powerful attributes of writing.

  1. Without judgement or discouragement, and being as direct as possible: what is the ultimate, lifetime goal you have for your writing?
  2. What can you do to kick start this goal in the next 12 months? (hint: where do you need to start, where do you need to grow most for the big picture)
  3. Is this yearly goal attainable? WHY OR WHY NOT?
  4. Of your reasons from #3, think about the fears, limitations or concerns that formed these reasons. Name them. What do you foresee keeping you from moving forward on this yearly goal?
  5. Of the fears, limitations and concerns, what are the possible solutions or actions you can take to eliminate them? (hint: each limitation/fear/concern gets its at least one action you can take to overcome it)
  6. If you have a planner or calendar, write down one weekly goal (eliminating distractions, word count requirement, number of submissions out, editing, classes etc) that will help overcome the hurdles you have to your writing.
  7. Looking at these weekly goals, find specific and measured times you have to dedicate to their success and write them down.

Okay, that’s it! I know, it’s a little dry but when building a house you have to have a solid foundation first or none of the pretty architecture above it will survive. So build your foundation, know where you’re coming from and next week we’re going to talk about:

Mission Possible: Drafting your Writing Mission Statement

(that sounds super boring but it will help writer’s across the spectrum. I promise!)

 

New Beautiful Stuff

 

Welcome back to The Beautiful Stuff!

It’s been a few weeks so I wanted to offer my sincerest thanks my readers out there for having patience while I took a little break from the blog. It was a perfect time to reset the old creative battery, try out a few new avenues, and make the new (and hopefully attainable) goals for the beginning of the next decade.

 

Last decade-turn I was stupid-big with my second baby and can’t recall much except I got winded a lot and had a really big problem with Whole Foods two-bite cannolis.

cannoli.jpg
I think I had at least a hundred two-bites in that last trimester…that’s two hundred bites

The baby turned out to be an amazing individual who is turning her first decade this year. Needless to say, back then I wasn’t thinking of the significance of a new ten years. I was thinking about potty training the oldest and trying not to tumble over while tying my shoes with a mouthful of cannolis.

But now here I am, in a less-rounded ten years and more in control of my mental faculties (still not so much control in the sweets department, but I’d be boring without SOME imperfections) and ya’ll are getting new and improved writing tools, inspiration, and help in the coming year.

First and foremost, (drum roll please) at the end of this month I’m launching The Beautiful Stuff’s first ever poetry anthology, entitled “No Small Things”.

I’ve been working hard over the holidays to get it organized, edited, and prepped. I must say, this is a beautiful little book with some amazingly talented writers contributing. I will give you updates on its release, book signing information, local stores who will be carrying it, how to get a copy if you aren’t local. If you are a writer or even just an avid reader interested in providing feedback and reviews for the book, please contact me and I’ll hook you up with a free copy.

Secondly, on Thursdays instead of the VerseDay you’ve grown accustomed to, I will be offering mini workshops; aptly named The Beautiful Writers Workshop, to get your creative juices flowing. If you’ve been inspired enough to write something you’d like to share, I will be offering a Monthly Writer Showcase, where you can promote your work, give a short bio, and/or provide a guest blog with any useful information you might have or want to share.

The Tuesday blog will move to only bi-monthly and will be more focused on The Beautiful Stuff of human existence outside of writing.

So there you go.

Recap for those of you who are cleansing and are a little foggy:

  • “No Small Things: The Beautiful Stuff 2020 Poetry Anthology” is out at the end of this month
  • Thursdays will feature The Beautiful Writers Workshop– free craft exercises to help break up the monotony and spark some inspiration.
  • Monthly Writer Showcase: Contact me if you’re interested in contributing!
  • Normal blog will be every other week on Tuesday and will center around The Beautiful Stuff of life.

If you’re in the middle of a learning new, healthier habits, I wish you good luck. If you’ve decided you’re just fine as is and aren’t changing a thing, I say good on you and keep on keeping on.

See you Thursday.

(By the way, The Beautiful Writers Workshop totally constitutes a valid excuse for buying new pens and pencils—you’re welcome.)

NANOWRIMO Week Two: Here Comes a Writer With a Baby Carriage

Hello!, and thanks for taking the time to catch up with the blog in the middle of one of your (hopefully) busiest writing months. At this point your mind set is probably so swayed to creating that reading outside of your work in progress is a lot like talking to another adult after being seeped in toddler-speak non-stop all week.

I know that your time is precious so I’ll keep it short and sweet. (Like me, ya’ll)

The second week of NANOWRIMO is all about elaborating on, fleshing out, and developing your baby. Last week we talked about the excitement of new love, the honeymoon stage of writing, if you will. This week is about the baby you’ve made and what that means for not just your writing but your life for the next seven to ten days.

I know a lot of you are parents, and though it may have been awhile since you’ve spent the midnight hours rocking teary-eyed cherub back to sleep, chances are you remember the sacrifice of time and autonomy for the good of the future. This week is not much different for the NANOWRIMO process. You are starting to see the commitment involved and how the expectations you may have had in the beginning are often dashed by the realities.

Because children don’t always behave the way you think they will. Characters show unexpected traits and say things that throw your dynamic out of whack like dropping the f-bomb at Christmas dinner with Grandma, or asking you for “boob!” loudly in a store.

Settings and plot lines stall with the same debilitating frustration as trying to get a two-year-old into shoes because you’re late for the doctor appointment and you haven’t showered in three days, and you ate cold, leftover mac n cheese for breakfast and you’re not sure if that’s their diaper that smells or the dog…

Keeping on top of the little fires that come up isn’t easy but I encourage you to set a flexible schedule (it works with kids; it works with writing). Give yourself two hours ideally but really whatever you have is fine. Leave half for just writing. Leave the other half to fix plot holes, develop your character’s personalities and backgrounds, build on your story arc, and brainstorm solutions for things that are cropping up as you pour ever more work into the novel. Look at it like doing the groundwork of, feeding, changing, and burping for half of it, and the other half cuddling, coloring, singing, and playing.

A well rounded “story” is equal parts meeting the basic needs and getting to play in the creation of it.

Good luck out there. Nap when it naps, grab a shower while your computer backs up. Drink some coffee and prep for the long nights. Remember the bigger picture. Novels and babies are investments in the future. The work, and love, and committed care you invest now will lead to rewarding results in both your story, your characters, and your craft.

Oh…and get a decent meal. You can’t run on PB&J crusts and half eaten apples forever.

 

Challenges, Fears, and What it Means to Tackle NANOWRIMO

Can you feel it in the air? The tingle of excitement in the tips of every writer’s fingers? The antici—–

–pation of the challenge and the reward? The insane gauntlet thrown down to write the better part of a novel in the short span of 30 days? I feel it in a new way. A frightening way.

For the first time since I started participating, I’m wondering if this might be the year that I fail.

It’s probably no surprise for those of you who follow the blog that I’ve been a little…down… lately. And with that comes a starkly lowered self-esteem. Add in a dash of mental block and creative fizzle and I’m having a hard time believing I will have enough clout to make it through 1700 words per day and finish a victor.

So what do I do? Not try at all? Shelve it for this year and treat myself with gentleness? I’m all for self-care, but I gotta be honest, lately I’ve been giving myself a little too much grace. I’ve been allowing myself an out from writing in every basket of laundry, sudoku puzzle, floor mopping, and random ten minute cat nap (that’s a nap with my cat on the couch) I can find. I’ve been so ‘busy’. But the truth is, it’s because I’m afraid to face the blank page that sits inside my head lately. I’m so certain it will end up a blank page on my screen that I’ve let the fear and disappointment of that possibility keep me from writing at all.

After all, if I don’t try I can’t fail, right? Ergo, if I don’t sign up for NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) I can’t fail at it. Plus…what will it do to me in my delicate mental state? To face such frustration and probable defeat?

The dark voice says it will break me. It says it will keep me from ever writing again, it will unhinge me. It will rob me of time better spent napping and such.

But there’s this other me that’s been trapped inside with the dark and she’s having a real teeth-grinding, fist-clenching, stand-up moment.

She says we can. She says she’s not afraid of a blank page, and she’s not worried that there aren’t any more ideas left in me. She says she knows people and characters, she knows struggle and strife, and the harsh realities of human frailty. She says there’s another novel in there, locked away behind the dark and she wants to flip the switch and shed some light on the subject.

You see, self-care is not just about bubble baths and indulging in your psychotic cat’s demand for a nap at ten in the morning. Sometimes, self-care is about knowing what you love and not letting yourself give it up when things get tough. Sometimes the deadline and the challenge is a sense of purpose in disguise that we gift to ourselves. The pursuit of your happiness is, quite possibly, one of the most important things you can do and not just for yourself, but for everyone who loves you.

So here it is, writers. If I can drag my ass to the computer and invest in my work (and myself) every day for a paltry 1667 words, then you don’t have an excuse not to. We’re all busy. We’re all tired. We’re all at a loss for ideas. The world around us doesn’t make it easy to dream. It’s loud and impatient. It’s riddled with worries and doubts, and problems bigger than any of us can solve on our own. But if we all start by investing in our art, in rising to the challenge, in reclaiming our power and self-belief, then we will become better people. And better people make a better world.

So go do something amazing. If you’ve never NANOWRIMO-ed before, check out their website to learn the rules here:

National Novel Writing Month

Most cities and states have local chapters for the event that will organize meetings, writing sprints, coffee, happy-hours and all sorts of other social stuff to keep you encouraged and give you a clan to check in and commiserate with.

Or if you’re more of a solitary beast, like myself, you can get tips and inspiration emailed to you, or join on-line forums in your underoos. Once you sign up you get a nifty author page where you can log your words per day and check on your progress (this is HONESTLY one of the best motivators for me. Nothing like a swanky bar graph to get a girl all excited about blowing the curve, you know what I mean? Wow, that sounded pretty naughty…not sorry.)

The beauty of this event is that it teaches you to establish a writing habit, and shows you that even when you only have a few minutes here and there in your day, if you dedicate them to writing you CAN complete a novel in a month. And that makes all of those excuses for not finishing your work in progress kind of null.

Maybe you’re ready, maybe you’re not. Either way…do it. You don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to. Of if that’s what motivates you, give the world a daily tally to keep you honest. You don’t have to write the next best seller and you don’t have to finish the story. The only thing you need is to do is dedicate the time to your magnificent imagination.

I originally thought I’d be putting The Beautiful Stuff blog on hold during this month since I’ll be otherwise ocupada…but after thinking it through, I will continue to write to you. I’ll let you know my progress, I’ll ask you questions about yours. I’ll offer advice as we get started, how to continue the momentum, how to get through the doldrums (shit yeah, that’s totally a real thing and it happens around week three) and how to finish strong, catching every last minute to cruise into the 50,000 word goal.

Then we’ll celebrate. With cat naps, or champagne, or a good cry in the shower, you know…whatever it is you need to unwind.

To inspire you further I offer this:

One lucky reader who takes a minute to let me how the process is going either via email or comment on the blog, will receive a congratulatory package after your awesome accomplishment with all kinds of goodies, including a signed copy of “Rise: An Anthology of Change” a beautiful little book of stories and poems about the power and folly of change and the human condition. Look at the pretty cover:

Rise Anthology

 

Take a deep breath writer, start brainstorming some ideas or dust off ones you’ve shelved for too long. Saturday we begin a new chapter, a new book, a new start.

 

VerseDay 10-17-19

Humans can be profoundly affected by our geography and by the environments we inhabit. We experience differences in our inner thought processes, comfort level, and overall spiritual and physical health depending on where we are in the world.

Some places unsettle us and can even cause physical reactions (Las Vegas does that to me). These environments rub against the grain of our constitution and basal genetic code, causing us to feel uncomfortable in ways we can quite pinpoint, anxious to not dawdle and even frantic in trying to find your equilibrium in every passing moment.

But sometimes you find yourself in a place that seems to run roots up through your feet from the minute you land. Those places that feed your soul, encourage your balance, and fill your blood with calm and connected joy are a rarity. It can feel like the land itself speaks to the deep timelessness of your stardust and reminds you of who you are deep in the marrow.

I’ve found only two or three such places in my short time here on this earth.

DSC_0208

Tnûth

The green valleys of hillside walls and

twisting archaic roads, tucked like snakes between.

Veining through time-forgotten land.

Vibrant and wet.

The countryside sewn with patches of heather and stone

And endless fields lit from Godspeak skies

give the feeling of being an island apart

from the insanity of the world

Stone fences encroached upon by lusty green growth,

Hugged tight to the tepid handy work of man,

as if to say that magic still breathes here,

and it will overtake our fleeting pillars.

My lungs indulge the mist of Loch Skeen’s mare.

And shoulders let go the weight of the lies I have lived.

Where the loamy peat and woodsmoke hearth

of cottages rendered from stone and thatch,

Nestle into knolls dotted with contented woolen faces

Call to me in dreams, once and again over,

She settles into my bones,

and fills my blood

I know this land somewhere deep in my veins.

This is where my heart lies

She is the place that calls my soul home.

The gray shores of rock and sand,

The moor I miss is more than I am used to yearning for.

So pray, Caledonia, beckon me

Come home, mo ghràdh,

And I will answer.

 

 

 

 

 

Priority

Hello writers and readers. I hope you all enjoyed a long weekend and had some time to yourselves for writing or exploring your creativity. I have been balancing the new school schedule as well as social engagements, old-dog vet appointments, and enrichment programs for my kiddos. I’ve been logging extra miles in preparation for the Colorado Ragnar Relay and juggling the details of 12 individuals coordinating 36 hours of their lives together.

What I haven’t been doing is writing.

Or editing.

Or even brainstorming.

It doesn’t bode well for a blogger who touts being a writer to not write. So what does one do, when life around her seems to sap every moment? She prioritizes and shakes off some of the unimportant to feed her soul. After all, that’s what I’m always preaching to you fine people to do, right? I can’t very well tell you how to walk the road while I muck around in the ditch.

So I’m back to the computer this week, setting up some goals for the year. My 40th trip around the sun should have something monumental yes? Besides my body falling apart and gravity being especially cruel on all my jiggly bits? I need something uplifting to balance it all out. So I’m making lists and culling the overgrown herd of obligatory adulting.

We all get overwhelmed and distracted with life and let our time to write, or to paint, or knit or whatever it is that feeds our bigger brain get kicked off the schedule. My hope is that we understand how empty that missing piece leaves us and work to fill it back in again.

As this is my case, I will only be contributing to this blog four times a month (2 blog posts, 2 VerseDays) in an effort to put more of my time towards my novels and the new Poetry Anthology coming out in the Spring.

I’m not sure who will miss my weekly thought purges, but rest assured, I will still be darkening your door, just a smidge less.

Please feel free to send me your poetry or flash fiction, I’ve extended the deadline to December 31st for inclusion into the poetry anthology, “No Small Things”. Even if you’ve contributed before, I’d love to hear more. Thanks for your time and consideration!

Until next week, go work on your stuff! I want to know your time isn’t being wasted and that we’re all doing well by ourselves and our passions. Reach out to me, if you do have a spare moment, and let me know what you’ll be doing to prioritize your creativity in the next few months!

Love ya,

Sarah