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 #8: I Made You a Mixed Tape

Hello beautiful writers, how are we wordsmithing this week? (heck yes wordsmithing is a verb). Were you able to come up with some inspiration from the well of words that is Merriam-Webster?

On this installment of the workshop we’re going to shift our focus from the power of words to the power of music and what it means for our creativity.

Now, I think I’ve written on this topic before so I may be borrowing from some past inspiration, but I think it bears repeating that music has a very influential role on all of us as humans and how we make neurological connections in the process of creativity.

As a writer, I’ve met the broad spectrum of those who couldn’t possibly have the distraction of sound and voice beside them while composing their stories to those who couldn’t bear to have the room silent. You know your own style and needs best and you aren’t required to practice any of these methods I give you, but I encourage you to try a few things to see if it affects your ability to create.

If you write to music, what do you prefer? 

In my experience, it depends greatly on what I’m writing. Sometimes I chose the music based on the scene I’m trying to create, or the mood that I want to convey. Sometimes the music is based solely on the character whose perspective I’m writing from, and what I think the soundtrack of their life looks like.

(ahem, in case you weren’t aware: we all have a soundtrack of our life, it’s what plays in our heads as the day progresses and during those times of elation or sadness…don’t believe me? Sit still with your thoughts for a couple of hours and see what little dittys pop up.)

When I write poetry I listen to something more instrumental and flowing, because the words in my head can’t be confused with any other words outside of it, When I write essays for my classes, classical music is fine but I have to stay away from rock because it breaks my focus and makes me randomly use my highlighter for a mic while I stand on my desk and belt out “My Sharona”. I once spent a few months embroiled in the genre of country, waist deep in Kenny Chesney and George Strait tracks, writing a romance novel about a country star trying to start his life over. This certainly helped: Tip of my tongue

Remember, singers and songwriters are creatives, people who understand emotion and the depth of lyrical effect. They are poets and expansive to our own work.

So this week’s assignment is to explore music as a way to get in touch with the mood of your scenes, the background and feelings of your characters, and inspire you to create more flowing and free works of art. I’ve listed a few of my favorite albums, artists and songs to write by lately, and remember I’m a romance novelist so…these aren’t going to be everyone’s jam.

The Pride and Prejudice Soundtrack: Pride and Prejudice

Brandi Carlile’s Bear Creek Album

Hozier (anything by that beautiful Irish, nature-jesus is golden by me)

The Head and the Heart “Down in the Valley” and “Rivers and Roads”

A Fine Frenzy

Ray LaMontagne

Jason Isbell (former front singer of The Drive By Truckers)

The Civil Wars

First Aid Kit

Kina Grannis’ cover of “Iris” Iris

Ruston Kelly

Anderson East

This one from Ashley Monroe is a favorite ‘mood’ song: Hands on You

Ruth B.

Wow, I could go on all day, but I DO have other things to get to. I hope you have a musically inspired day.

Good luck out there, and let me know what you prefer to write to. Even if it’s silence.

 

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 #6 Character Development

 

Good Morning! Quick announcement for those of you following such things. The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology of 2019-2020, “No Small Things” will be released this coming Monday the 17th of February! Appropriately just past Valentine’s Day. That means you can buy it for a belated gift, because everyone knows the actual day is just a commercial driven, chocolate and sex-fest. (if it were just a chocolate and sex-fest, without the commercialism, I’d be totally for it.)

But a stunning book of poetry is the gift that keeps on giving.

Stay tuned for pictures, samples, and book giveaways happening this month and thru March. Also, be on the lookout for a book signing to happen this Spring in Fort Collins. I will let you know the date and place as it solidifies.

AND NOW THIS:

First off, where in the hell are your haiku’s?

None? Psh…cowards.

Okay, here’s a few from some brave souls out there.

Miss. Elliana Byrne from Boulder, Colorado sent me this lovely and thought worthy collaboration of five.

He said, I can’t help

With all your mental raving

You’ll have to sort it

 

He said, I was sweet

A juicy peach to bite, hard

But I talk too much

 

He said, breathe deeply

When I’m not so insecure,

He might give a fuck.

 

He said, I wouldn’t

Not with you, and your baggage

Stacked higher than sin.

 

They all want to taste

But none want to swallow me.

Jagged edge sweetness

 

 

Here are a few of my own in “honor” of the upcoming holiday.

 

1.

Silence stole my heart

You are gone, and I am lost

You were my constant.

 

2.

February lies

In drifts of heart-shaped candy

All love is false hope.

 

3.

Mechanical heart

Pumping without feeling love

Empty valves digress.

 

4.

She carried it well

Cancer of melancholy

consumed heart tissue.

 

There’s no time limit on these exercises and no order so if you want to send me anything from The Beautiful Writer Workshop, feel free.

 

NOW, ON TO THIS WEEK’S BEAUTIFUL STUFF:

This week’s exercise is short and sweet (not 17 syllables short, you’ll need some time on this one.)

Take ten to thirty minutes (together or in pieces) and pick either one of your favorite characters from a work in progress OR a favorite character from an already published book.

Write their backstory.

Where were they born? What was the name of the hospital? What time of day was it? What were they like in kindergarten? Did they run track or dole out drugs in high school? What’s their most defining internal characteristic? What strange thing do they do when they think they’re alone? What’s the worst thing about them, external or internal? What’s the best?

If you’ve already done this, then kudos to you. The writer that knows their character will have a much easier time telling their story. If you haven’t done it, get on it!

If you don’t have a character of your own, pick one of your favorite characters from literature (or dime-store novels, it doesn’t matter) and rewrite them as the anti-hero/opposite and be sure to have the backstory of why they turned out that way.

What defining moment in their life changed it all?

Okay. Go. You don’t have to send anything in on this one, but keep in it your file for your WIP. If you like it and find it helpful, do a similar exercise with the other characters in your book/novel/short story. Even the “sidekicks”. Everybody’s got a story.

Until next week, Happy Writing.

 

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #5: Haiku, can you?

Good Thursday morning, writers! I hope your week has been productive and your mental coffers are overflowing with ideas.

Today I’m going to be featuring some awesome first lines from the “Ten First Lines” exercise, as well as a few of my own. But first, down to business.

I realize we aren’t all poets here. I know that some of you have more the mind for long and involved stories. But, sometimes when time is limited a quick little scribble of something is better than nothing at all. Often, I find that these little scraps of creativity can lead me to a good short story or even get me over a plot problem in something I’m working on.

So today, your exercise is to experiment with the dreaded 9th grade (probably earlier nowadays) assignment of writing 2 to 3 haikus, alternately and if you are of the mind, you may write limericks (but no pilfering the dirty ones that still remain stuck in your head long after algebra has disappeared).

If you need a refresher, the haiku is a form of poetry, originated in Japan, following a syllabic structure in three lines. 5, 7, 5.

example:

“A World of Dew” by Kobayashi Issa

A world of dew,

And within every dewdrop

A world of struggle.

(Hey, wait, that first line only has 4, Sarah!)

Yep, that’s the thing, sometimes poets will play with the rule as long as they stay in the general confines of brevity for big ideas. such as this:

“In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

If we make a break after ‘apparition’ it works in format, but Ezra’s point was to keep that flow of the first 12 syllables of ideas all together.

So, see?
It’s not so rigid as your English school marm might have made it out to be. We’re adults, we can play.

Give me some good ones and I’ll share mine next time.

Speaking of sharing…here are some fantastic lines, the first two from our good friend and down right amazing human being, sid sibo:

  • It’s frickin’ hard to turn the page on a petroglyph story panel.
  • Stars brushed their gleaming fangs and the air itself glittered with frigid crystals.
  • WorkEatSleep was no life at all, not for a black rhinoceros, her skin slicked with ancient dust from a glorious continent.

No matter how you spin it, that lady is brilliant.

Here’s a few bites of the odd from my own homework:

  • My inflatable kiddie pool was infested by porcupines, high off my neighbors discarded edible gummies.

  • The toy monkey clapped at my ability to darn my own socks, still on.

  • Two, bonded-for-life redtails mocked her and her single membership gym card.

Okay. That’s all for today.

Go haiku.

Hell…if you’re a romantic, work on something for your significant other early before that made up holiday hits us next week.

OH AND…

LOOK FOR AN ANNOUNCEMENT HERE FOR THE RELEASE DATE OF “NO SMALL THINGS, A BEAUTIFUL STUFF POETRY ANTHOLOGY 2020” NEXT WEEK!!!!

(I’m so exited I could join those porcupines.)

 

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 Beauty of Quiet

You can feel it, like a vibrating pulse, constantly surrounding us. It’s in the buzz of the lights, the ringing of phones, the blip of messenger, the ping of news alerts. It’s the hum of electrical devices and the glow of screens. It’s a blanket of noise and light, sound and motion. It’s the modern, ‘marvelous’ world we live in.

And it’s killing us.

Our brains are beautiful machines, designed to process incoming information from our senses and filtered through our own experiences and knowledge until they are the equivalent of a constantly running mainframe that makes millions of decisions a day, from a billion different choices and scenarios. And we live in a world where the information is at hand in any moment we desire, from thousands of different outlets and devices, constantly spewing out anything you’d like to know and most things you wish you didn’t.

And yet our brain no longer knows itself.

With a constant barrage of noise and information from outside along with the endless distractions permanently affixed into the palm of our hands, we have lost our ability to know who we really are and what is really important to us.

After all, without quiet alone time, our thoughts and therefore our minds become products of all that we take in. Without solitude for true self-reflect, unplugging, and just being in our own heads, we become part of the noise, this capitalist driven machine that has stopped questioning what it really means to be happy. Implanting ideas of material wealth and social forum acceptance as the cure all to the emptiness we feel.

We are too busy, we are too distracted, we are devoid of personal and private time. Our lives have become fishbowls; both open for inspection from anyone paying attention and also offering 360-degree views of everyone else’s business.

When was the last time you took 15 minutes of complete silence, without any external distraction?

Don’t have the time? It’s equivalent to about two Facebook checks, three cute cat videos, or two over-polarized news articles.

Don’t think silence makes a difference?

In a study published by Psychology Today, quiet contemplation was proven to dramatically improve our brain’s ability to sleep more soundly, stave off depression and anxiety, improve cognitive and behavioral function and even help fight chronic pain.

(Ahmad, S. (2019, July 17). Meditation and Mental Health. Retrieved January 19, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/balanced/201907/meditation-and-mental-health)

We all know what happens when a computer overheats. Shit starts to go wrong.

Very wrong.

Depression and anxiety have never been at higher levels. Everyone on this planet is walking around with their nose stuck to screens waiting for the world to tell us what to value, what to be, what to feel…Waiting to tell us that we’re good enough. When the only person we should be seeking these answers from is ourselves.

I know it’s a little ironic to be preaching a sermon on getting off your tech from the pulpit of a blog. It doesn’t escape me that I’m keeping you here for some of those minutes we waste. But I’m doing it as a public service.

Get off your screen, take a break from the games, and social media, and frenzy of sound and light.

Because while the outside world is distracting you with all of its splendor, you’re missing the really beautiful stuff, the REAL stuff, that resides right in your own head. Go have a thought. All on your own. Follow it around for a bit without Google force-feeding you the answers.

Please. For your health, for the health of this planet and all human beings, do this thing.

Living beautifully means living. Not just watching fabricated life from the strangest social experiment ever concocted, but really spending time with yourself, with face to face conversations, with the space to breathe and let go of all that nonessential bullshit and make peace in the quiet.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Week 2- Mission Possible: Drafting A Writing Statement

Read that title, again would you?

 

I know, right?! SNOOZEFEST!!!

I promise, this isn’t going to be as painful as it sounds and it might be one of the most useful tools you have when it comes to guiding your writing. A writing mission statement turns vague hopes for an outcome into solid ideas and language.

So what is it that you want your writing to do?

Last week I asked you to compose some answers to questions about your writing in hopes that you can expand on those answers in the coming weeks and use them in addition to our exercises to flesh out your writing career.

From those answers, you should have written down aspirations for what you wanted to accomplish in a year, month, week, etc, and the small manageable goals that can get you there.

This is a little different.

Thinking about the work in progress you’re embroiled in (be it a novel, an article, an essay, or directions on how to make a giant rooster shaped cake)

rooster cake2
Join me next time when I explain how writers are masters of procrastination. Like, looking up images for rooster cake.

I want you to write down what you hope to accomplish with this particular work. We’re talking end game stuff here. What do you want the people reading your work to walk away with afterwards?

Example 1:

Say you’re working on an article about the wage disparity in large corporations.

Take ten to fifteen minutes and write what outcome you want to see as a result of your article. How do you want people to see your subject of the story? How can you make them identify with the people involved? Is it to educate? To change policy? Do you want to give them the tools to make changes, or just to think about it in a new light and in a way that encourages discussion?

Once you know the end goal, it will affect how you write the story.

 

For novelists a mission statement is integral to developing a relationship with your reader via your characters.

Example 2:

I want my readers to identify with a cranky, semi-violent spirit, haunting an old seaside house and fall in love with him. I want my readers to feel the sting of being trapped, and the power of love to soften hurt.

 

Writing about what you want to write will actually help you know what you need to learn in order to accomplish this mission statement.

 

So here’s your job this week:

  • Write a short mission statement for your work in progress or your next work.
  • Share it with someone (accountability bitches)
  • Where is the next, imagined destination of this work?
  • If you have time—study some of your old work, and see if you can write a mission statement for them—what did you learn from each?
  • If you have time—think of your favorite articles, books, masterpieces and see if you can decipher what the mission statement was for them.

Oye, so much work. Don’t make me crack a whip.

Again, feel free to share. I love hearing about your purpose in writing and remember that sharing that will help to manifest your goals!

Next week we’re dipping into some heavy creative work to balance out all of this business side.

 

Take care!

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!)