“We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” –William Butler Yeats
I cannot believe it’s taken me nearly all month to remember that it is, in fact, National Poetry Month. I think I may have skimmed over something in the deluge of news clips and overthought, under-edited articles that pervade my cyber space, but in a world where days blend together, I nearly missed it.
You know what coming next, don’t you?
Oh,I’m not being lazy! It’s good practice!
And its more a matter of economy–I’ve got end-of-school projects due and a Black Belt Progress check this week, and therefore, my plate is a little full. So this week your exercise is simple. Go outside, mask it up if you find yourself in a bustling park, of course, but if it’s a deserted early morn, breathe the un fettered air, allow a scrap of paper and pen to tag along with you.
Take ten minutes of just being aware of the moment. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? What do you smell? Use these observations and notice how they filter and affect the thoughts already on your mind. Have a quarrel with yourself and see what arguments emerge. What solutions? What epiphanies?
Then go find yourself a favorite place to sit and write me a poem.
I was going to give you some restrictions but I think we’ve all had enough of those. Any length, any form, rhyming or blatantly against, iambic pentameter–why the f%*k not? Limerick or Odyssey, dark or light, whatever is on the tip of your brain, no matter how sharp or dull.
Send them along, and let me know if you want me to include them in the weeks to come.
Now, I know last week I talked about taking life down a notch, enjoying the time we have and not stressing about impressing others. And I was honest in my expression of those thoughts.
Then what did I do? I turned around and signed up for a writing challenge last weekend, sponsored by the lovely folks at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, a volunteer group based in Colorado. The challenge was done through a dedicated page on FaceBook and the aspiration was to reach 25,000 words in 4 days, with daily check ins.
I know. I know. I said I wasn’t going to push beyond what I needed and no one needs to finish a novella or half a novel in four days. That being said, of the few things in life that bring me true joy, writing is one. So to have a challenge that gives me reason to put my writing first above all other priorities was very good for my practice and for my mental health. I had a justifiable reason to get on the computer, shut out the world and work. I had a goal to get to!
And here’s what I learned:
1.) Sometimes a thing seems impossible; until it’s not.
That is to say, that mountain looks insane and unclimbable when all you’re doing is standing at the base looking up at the top. But if you start walking and focus on the trail ahead of you, taking on the obstacles in your present moment one at a time, soon you’ve found you’ve reached the next rise… and the next, and the next.
Large things aren’t accomplished in one step. They are accomplished by persevering through all of the little steps on the way.
2.) My family didn’t fall apart when I retreated into my writing for a while.
Sure…eventually if you lock yourself away in hermitude, giving everything you have to your craft, your children forget they had a mom, your spouse doesn’t remember what you look like, and all your houseplants will die.
But nine times out of ten, when you need an hour to focus on your work in progress, your kids and family and houseplants will manage just fine. They might even be better for it, having been so bored for so long that they had to go and make their own fun.
In your life, the laundry can wait, the e-mails, the FaceBook updates, the schedules etc, can take a back burner temporarily while you work on a dream.
3.) Writer’s block sort of disappears when you don’t have the time to self-edit or doubt.
Now listen, this thing I wrote is rough. I mean ROUGH.
The spelling, the punctuation, the grammar, the inconsistent plot line and character flaws… the total lack of reasoning in some cases…it’s a bonafide mess. But it’s also raw and flowing. There were no stutter stops or abrupt changes because I didn’t have time to stop and rethink. Character’s said what they meant, and did it efficiently because I had a story-line to build. And I think my ability to follow the character’s lead improved, letting them do what they do without my intervention led to a more interesting twists, and brighter characters.
4.) Never underestimate the power of having people in your corner
Ya’ll…I didn’t even know the people who participated in the Spring Novelrama either to write, or to mediate writing sprints, or to send memes and inspirational videos. And yet not a single one of them, from what I read, had a disparaging word for their fellow writers. When the word counts were paltry, or life was distracting us, or if someone had gotten caught up editing and *gasp* lost words, every response was that of “I’ve been there, I know it, you’re gonna get through this! You’re doing great!” And getting told that three or four times a day by writers more experienced and talented than you can really start to make you feel like:
5.) I’m kind of awesome.
Now listen, I know that sounds cocky. But if any of you know me in real life, you know that I’m not very generous when it comes to dolling out self-esteem. I’ll be the first to tell you all of my flaws and give you a detailed list of why I’m the least capable person in the world for anything.
But when you get to the top of a mountain that you once thought was impossible to climb, you learn a lot about yourself. How dedicated you can be. How well you can step up when something matters to you. So the next mountain over still might be scary but now you know you have the determination and persistence to conquer it. And knowing that is half the battle in recognizing your awesomeness.
So big picture message here is this: Don’t not try something just because it seems hard or even impossible. Mastery is achieved by accepting difficulties. Living in the moment and taking the steps we can until the impossibility passes beneath our feet like rocky ground. Go do something amazing today, startle yourself, challenge yourself. Whether it be in your work or in your passion (I would love if, for all of us, that was one and the same), take a little leap and trade the fear for faith that it will all work out.
Surround yourself with good people who are sympathetic to your struggle but won’t be enablers to your pity party.
Thank you to all that participated and helped run the contest. Thanks for my quirky new novel that has everything from deep-rooted government conspiracies, to genetically modified super soldiers, to in depth conversations about leg shaving.
Go on now writer. Set a goal, give it a timeline, and get on with discovering who you can be.
Happy Wednesday good people of the world. Extra Happy Wednesday to the bad ones…since you probably need more happy.
Today, I’m writing about the beauty of the human senses.
The human senses are invaluable to a writer, being the most surefire way to engage your reader in what the main character is feeling/seeing/hearing/tasting/smelling and, if you’re really good at the descriptive narrative, making them feel as though they are feeling/seeing/hearing/tasting/smelling the same things.
Senses are powerful. The words you choose to describe them must be impeccable to harness this power.
I realize, if you aren’t a writer, you may feel left out. Well I never leave a person behind, so hang on.
Why in the hell does a human need to explore their senses if they’re not showing someone the glint of moonlight on glass?
Well, hear me out, human.
Every single one of us, writer or no, deserves to indulge in our senses.
Why? Why is it important?
Well, shucks! Thanks for asking, new paragraph that makes my self-questioning seem rational…
Because part of living beautifully, is living with purpose which is closely tied to living in the moment, and living in the moment has everything to do with connecting to what is real, around you presently…not the feeling of a chair you sat in five days ago, or the way spring will smell eight months from now.
I’m talking about being present through the use of gifts you’ve been given.
Sit still for Christ’s sake. Seriously. Just sit.
Someplace safe and comfortable, turn off your goddamn phone, close your eyes and listen.
Take a deep breath, really hear the wave of it rush in and out against the shore of your throat. Listen to what you can only hear when you stop moving, and worrying, and obsessing. Bird chatter, the quiet hum of the neighbors AC unit (hey, not every sound is some natural wonder sent to give you soulful clarity.) Maybe it’s the squeal of tires outside or the school bell in the distance. Now, before you start having judgments or memories, or ideas that are inspired by what you can hear in silence, let those noises go. Let them pass through your brain like clouds in a sky. Take a deep breath.
What do you smell? Last night’s dinner, the oily basset at your feet (who’s probably cracking off the most horrific clouds of flatulence you’ve ever suffered through—wipe your eyes, try to get past it).
Maybe it’s soap (the decadent scent of a man newly showered) or maybe you smell the old books on your desk, the bed linens behind you and all the interesting smells that reside there. (Remember, basset or sheets, reserve your judgement.)
Open your eyes, focus on the small details, try to descern the exact colors, watch the play of shadows and the shimmer of reflections.
When you walk through gardens, through stores, through life, hold out your hand and touch things (no butts please…or unwilling butts? Don’t go touching unwilling participants is what I’m saying…stick to the inanimate). Touch fabric, leaves, dead branches and icicles, let the dog passing by snuffle your hand and leave its viscous slobber behind. Touch your hair, the arch of your foot, the base of your nose, tug on your ear lobe…how different it all is! How does it feel to be touched in those strange little places? Get to know your own body and the sensitivity of your fingertips.
When you sit down to eat, really taste your food. Keep it on your tongue and think about what’s going on there. When you kiss someone, taste them, their lips, their breath, the
flavor of them and their body chemistry…it is different for everyone and that’s something fascinating to explore.
Finally…and this is an important one…your gut. The so-called sixth sense. Intuition. IT’s there. IT’s often drown out by the madness of our modern world, the overstimulation and cultural rules and denial of the naysayers who believe humans are so far above ‘animals’ that we no longer need such ‘witchcraft’.
Tell those voices to stuff it. Listen to your gut. Listen to your intuition. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. You’re still an animal and don’t forget it. Don’t get too lost in the modern world. Remember, use the gifts biology and genetics gave you.
IF you are a writer, use these exercises to bring clarity and realism to your work.
If you’re a normal human with a ‘real’ day job (oooo self-burn!), use these exercises to be more present in your own life—to slow down time and remember what you are; A beautiful, messy human being with magical guts, wandering eyes, soft to the touch, with angry squirrels chattering on rooftops, smelly bassets underfoot, and a taste for the sensuality all around.