The Prompter Room

For Friday, November 25, 2016:

 

Creative people, as I see them, are distinguished by the fact that they can live with anxiety, even though a high price may be paid in terms of insecurity, sensitivity, and defenselessness for the gift of the ‘divine madness,’ to borrow the term used by the classical Greeks.  They do not run away from non-being, but by encountering and wrestling with it, force it to produce being.  They knock on silence for an answering music; they pursue meaninglessness until they can force it to mean.

Rollo May, THE COURAGE TO CREATE

Note: This book is one of my creative ‘bibles,’ and I recommend it for anyone who has even just one creative bone in your body.  My own copy is so dog-eared, densely underlined, and full of margin notes, it’s probably time to get a new one (so I can at least add new notes), so I know how important this book is for the creative journey.  It is a true treasure.

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The Prompter Room

For Sunday, March 27, 2016:

 

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.  You need to start somewhere.”

Anne LaMott

“Writing is a delicious agony.”

Gwendolyn Brooks

That first sentence can be a bear.  And that first brushstroke on canvas.  And the first keystroke on a nascent Website.  How many times have we started a creative enterprise that’s new to us – or maybe not so new – and hesitated with the first motions?  Sometimes even setting out on a new driving journey we take a wrong road and have to turn around and start over again.

This is on my mind as I look forward to getting back to the draft of the first chapter of what will be my third novel, the sequel to my second novel, which is almost ready for production.  Each of us has our own creative versions of the first sentence, the first brush- or keystroke, the first stitch of the needle.

With most things, though, the angst – the creative anxiety and, perhaps, trepidation – ahead of time is, I think, worse than actually sitting down to start.  Once we start, we can erase, delete or paint over wayward words or images, take out stitches, turn around.  There are always opportunities to start over again.  Yes, we’ll continue to make mistakes or decide a different word is better than that one, the last paragraph should be the first one, but that’s all part of the process.

One of THE most important things I learned when I went back to school as an adult to finish my BA was to ‘trust the process.’  This was our mantra.  I remember the countless times we heard it in faculty presentations and in one-on-one conversations with our advisors.  When we started repeating it to new students, we knew we had internalized the words and the reason and made them our own.

The creative process has its own timetable, its own way of expressing itself, its own way of supporting us in whatever we set out to do.  With that foundation, we know there’s always a way through the ‘terrible’ – which usually isn’t all that terrible, really – to get to the ‘delicious.’  If it doesn’t look like our first vision, then we trust the process will effect something even better.

After all, if we don’t take an occasional wrong turn, if we only stick to the roads we know, we won’t happen upon occasions to explore new views or new viewpoints.  We don’t learn much from the same old-same old.  Those happy ‘accidents’ usually open up broad new vistas, but if we don’t start out to begin with, we won’t find them.

The Prompter Room

For Friday, March 4, 2016:

 

“For poems are like rainbows; they escape you quickly.”

Langston Hughes, “The Big Sea”

Within an hour after I finished the manuscript of the novel I’ve been drafting, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a new poem.  Something caused a partial line or an image to pop in to my head as I was doing something else yesterday afternoon – making the bed, maybe, or walking from one room to another? – and then just as quickly it was gone.

Though I don’t remember now what it was, I did hold on to that ephemeral ‘something’ long enough to say to myself, ‘Oh, that might be a poem!’   It’s been at least a year, if not longer, since I’ve written a poem, so I was thrilled to feel even that shimmer of an impulse.  That tells me there may be a rainbow developing inside.

I know my creative processes well enough to know I need to leave space for it to grow.  If I want that poem, or any poem, to emerge, I can’t dive back into writing fiction for at least a few days, like I had planned to do.  I can’t do any editing.  My head needs to be empty for a while, my eyes and heart need to be open, ready to receive what’s waiting to show itself.

It’s possible that yesterday’s poem seed may be gone forever, but I know, now that the stirrings have started again, that another one will show up in its place.  In the meantime, I  should probably do some too-long-delayed cleaning around here …  Physical activity usually helps, and I’ve been too focused on the novel to do more than pay token attention to the state of the house.

Maybe if some of the dust and clutter are cleared away, there will be more light for a rainbow when it’s time.

The Prompter Room

For Monday, February 22, 2016:

 

“Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original mind.  It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private.”

Allen Ginsberg

“Artists are the gatekeepers of truth.”

Paul Robson

Part of me wishes we were still in the era of smoky coffeehouses and Beat poetry.  Those single, individual poets spoke – one at a time – for those who couldn’t, and for those who weren’t aware enough to know that they should.  Another part of me is glad we aren’t still there, as much as I’m grateful for their courage and example.

Gradually those voices grew in number and volume.  “The times, they were a-changing,” and calls for revolution, for ‘speaking truth to power,’ were heard in poetry and song and underground newspapers, on the streets, soap boxes, and college campuses, from jail cells to concert halls to muddy farmlands.  The ‘establishment’ was horrified, of course, but over time the voices for change eventually led to much-needed and new ways of thinking, doing, and being.

There’s still much work to be done, of course, and today’s political cacophony – or circus, as some pundits have dubbed it – is evidence of that.  Look around, though, and you can still find poets, writers, songwriters, and artists on the stage, the front lines, and smack dab in the middle of marches.  You probably know some personally.  Maybe you’re among them.

I’ve long pondered why artists are such political creatures, why so many end up being change agents in big and small ways.  Is there something in their genetic makeup?   It’s such a general truth, though, that I think art schools and writing curricula should include – if they don’t already – classes on protesting and revolution because, more than likely, their students will need to know what to expect.

Perhaps we’re political because we’re creative, we’re intimate with the creative process.  We see possibilities, we can see beauty in people and places that others can’t.  Conversely, we can see terror or heartbreak or loneliness that others can’t, and that propels us to do anything to make others understand and change all that.  We see beyond what is static in front of our eyes, we can make the intuitive leap into imagination and something better.

We help open the doors and the gates behind which so many are trapped, where so many cower, either from their fear of being thought wrong or because they are seen as different.

Whether we incite change alone or with others, quietly or loudly, slowly or quickly, we owe it to those whose shoulders – whose words, songs, visual art – we stand on to continue the good fight.  The world needs artists to be aware for those who aren’t.  The world needs artists to protect and give voice to the truth and to those who can’t speak for themselves.

Thank you for being an artist.

The Prompter Room

For Sunday, December 13, 2015:

 

“To draw, you must close your eyes and sing.”

Pablo Picasso

As much as I loved my mother, and as much as she supported me and my writing, she wasn’t any help whenever I showed her my adult attempts at drawing.  I can understand why – her father and sister were acclaimed and respected artists, and she and her mother both had artistic talent of their own styles.  Still, it hurt a lot the time Mother laughed at one of my pencil sketches.

I was in my 40s by then and trying my hand at another way to express myself.  It was definitely a simple sketch, nothing to be real proud of, but I thought it had potential to be worked into something better.  It was the visual version of a written first draft, and Mother’s laughter cut through me like I was a child whose kindergarten painting is shoved into a drawer instead of hung on the refrigerator.

I had no delusions of grandeur regarding my artistic ability.  I knew – I know – I don’t have the inherent talent my mother’s family had, but I wanted to try to develop some skills and techniques so I could enjoy just playing with paints once in a while.  It took me a few months to try anything after that, and I never showed her any of my attempts at art again.  I kept at it, though, and I still have some of my pieces.  Most of them now live in file drawers, but I do have one painting out for all to see.

The one good thing that came out of that experience is that I began to explore other and additional ways to express myself visually.  I’ll never win any awards or acclamation that way – writing and editing are clearly my foremost talents – but that doesn’t matter.  Those new efforts reinforced what artistic skills I know I do have, and I found new confidence to keep trying.

So the moral of the story is don’t let others defeat you.  You do have talent, you do have skills.  We all do.  And together we can all sing!

 

The Prompter Room

For Monday, November 2, 2015:

“Start writing, no matter what.  The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Louis L’Amour

Every writer knows this is true, but getting started is usually the hardest part.  That’s why Julia Cameron’s ‘Morning Pages’ and books filled with writing exercises are so popular: they prime the pump.

This is also one reason I started these daily prompts.  In the past couple of months, several friends have told me they want to — they feel like they need to — start writing something specific, but they don’t know how or where to start.  That blank page or computer screen can be the widest empty space in the world, and we wonder how to fill it.  ‘Nature abhors a vacuum,’ after all, so I hope one or more of these posts has helped open the word faucet.

I also started these prompts for me, to make sure I write something every day.  It doesn’t need to be much, but it needs to be something.  It doesn’t always need to be on a work-in-progress, but it needs to be something, anything.

We hear it all the time, and we know this intellectually, but we truly do need to exercise our writing muscles.  We need to develop a discipline that can carry us through and to that next word, that next sentence.

If you haven’t yet read my blog post called ‘Handy Work,’ check it out to see if that exercise might work for you.  Using our non-dominant hand can start the flow.  It moves us away from the tangled staleness in our heads and frees up access to the creative side of the brain.

How about we make a pact with each other?  Let’s commit to write one page a day — of anything, even copying the back of a cereal box — with our non-dominant hands so we can open up that faucet a little more every day. If nothing else comes to you, copy down the quotations in these daily prompts.

I will if you will.

The Prompter Room

For Thursday, October 22, 2015:

“I say one must be a seer, make oneself a seer.  The poet makes himself a seer by an immense,

long, deliberate derangement of all the senses.”

Arthur Rimbaud  

When my poetry and I were young, my family claimed they always knew when I had an important (my mother’s word at the time) poem coming because I would get ‘very bitchy.’  When the poem that was germinating was finally ready, I would take my pen and notebook into the bathroom in the middle of the night, sit on the floor with my back against the bathtub, and write until I was satisfied with the first draft.  After the poem was thus birthed, according to my family, I was back to my usually sweet self.

Looking back, my family was right: the poems that were birthed in the midnight light of the bathroom were always better than those I had to write for assignments or that just came into my head for some reason.  I didn’t feel deranged necessarily, and it certainly wasn’t deliberate, but I do remember going through sometimes intense inner turmoil and conflict as ‘important’ poems built up inside me.  The late night writing sessions served as a release valve — a relief valve — as the creative process worked its way through me, sometimes with tears.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized those ‘important’ poems were, without fail, spiritual or theological in nature.

Until I learned about haiku in my 10th grade creative writing class, this was my process and habit when it came to writing many of my early poems.  While I wrote a fair number of poems before this discovery — notebooks’ worth, in fact — I went a little wild with haiku and its related forms of tanka, senryu and haibun. 

These tightly structured forms appealed to my creative mind, but even more to my heart and soul.  Sometimes I would write several a day. Eventually I found that sometimes I could condense a poem that was a potential candidate for a late night marathon into 17 syllables, and I could do so without the inner conflict or outer derangement.  And sometimes the haiku was creatively better, more satisfying, more effective than a longer version.

It makes sense, if you think about it.  A properly crafted haiku is much more than the nature observations that are the usually-perceived purpose.  Haiku are profound and spiritual creations.  My early haiku weren’t usually profound, but they were definitely spiritual.  As Nietzsche wrote, “You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.”

If you are struggling with your poetry or writing, or anything in the creative process, I suggest you explore haiku as a vehicle in that journey.  And remember, it’s the journey, not the destination, that’s important — so don’t worry if it’s profound or not.  I think you’ll surprise yourself at the dancing stars you’ll find along the way.

How Do You Work Best?

Note: A short time after I posted this, I realized I’d already published it here with a different title.  I was going to take it down, but I received a comment or two immediately and decided to keep it up.  In the interim, I had the opportunity to read an article about something very similar, which bears out — and says better and in more detail — what I was trying to express.  The article can be found at NPR.com.  Look for the title ‘In a Digital Chapter, Paper Notebooks are as Relevant as Ever’ from May 27, 2015.  Be sure to read the comments, too!

Do you have or utilize different writing/creative processes for the different genres in which you write?

When I write poetry, for instance, I have to start and finish the first draft in longhand. Once I start refining a poem, I can do it on the computer – though it always seems better when I stick to pen and paper – but it always has to start with the physical process. The pen has to channel my images and thoughts onto paper. And I need silence. Lots and lots of silence, and no distractions.

When I write fiction, I usually start that same way, but then I can easily go to the computer or go back and forth between the two as I craft the final product. Again I need silence for this, but there can be the (very) occasional and short-lived distraction.

Creative non-fiction is the easiest to compose on the computer, for some reason. And I can work on something with other things going on around me.

I’ve always been intrigued at these differences. So here’s the question: How do you work best in your various genres and why?

Different Strokes

Do you have or utilize different writing/creative processes for the different genres in which you write?

When I write poetry, for instance, I have to start and finish the first draft in longhand. Once I start refining a poem, I can do it on the computer – though it always seems better when I stick to pen and paper – but it always has to start with the physical process of the pen channeling my images and thoughts onto paper. And I need silence. Lots and lots of silence, and no distractions.

When I write fiction, I usually start that same way, but then I can easily go to the computer or go back and forth between the two as I craft the final product. Again I need silence for this, but there can be the (very) occasional and short-lived distraction.

Creative non-fiction is easier for me to compose on the computer, for some reason. And I can work on something with other things going on around me.

I’ve always been intrigued at these differences. So here’s the question: How do you work best in your various genres and why?