Do I Make an Outline or Chart an Uncertain Course?

Outline or...

It depends?  Either one or both?  Or do you have another way?  This is yet another writer’s decision based upon your own unique needs and the parameters of what you are writing, whether to start with an outline or to be a bit random.

I have writing-friends who are very linear. For them, making an outline gives a sense of security and even comfort.  They’ve got something down on paper and it has a safe structure!  They’ve contained their idea and phew, they are on their way.  Regardless of the particular genre, this is their chosen method of beginning to write–their point of entry.

I like something looser…a wending path across a long roll of paper that I unfurl as I go. Or on that same long roll of paper, I might draw text bubbles of all shapes and sizes.  I diagram, play, map, add and subtract, doodle, make notes, daydream, go a little wild, add color, and engage with my theme or story in a way that the rigidity of an outline with Roman numerals doesn’t allow.  My whole body is involved as I navigate around the meandering paper roll which has now drifted from table to floor.  I number and re-number the text bubbles when I want to bring in some continuity or order.

Structures serve a purpose; however, in the creative realm, structures imposed too soon may be restrictive.  If you are relating something that is absolutely fact-based, then you probably want an outline (at some point).  However, if you have a fact-based story and go a little wild with diagramming, drawing, diverting, you might surprise yourself and bring in some elements that would give your fact-based story a different sort of vitality. And in doing so, you’ve tapped into another part of your brain!

I am not going to tell you not to do an outline.  If you are bent on this, then do it.  Once it’s done, try taking it apart and destructuring it.  Take that long roll of paper and draw that unfolding path or unwieldy text bubbles.  Call on your own fun-loving creative spirit and play freely.  Afterwards, you can rein in your troops and see what is worth keeping and how to integrate it (or not) into your outline and written script.  This is part of the crafting process.

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Considering all of the above, writing seems to be a left-side of the brain activity.  It seeks a logic of some sort as its basis.  (Except, I think, for poetry…which dances between the left and right side of the brain–the masculine right to be assertive and logical dances with the feminine right to intuit and feel). Hmmm.

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WRITING PROMPT:
Try it both ways…take a poem you want to write, a chapter you’re working on or a theme you are considering.  Outline it first.  Then, set yourself free on a long roll of paper or several 8-1/2″ x 11″ sheets of paper taped together.

Once you’ve drafted your ideas on a paper roll, get yourself some inexpensive fluorescent paints and a paintbrush.   Holding the brush in your fingertips, loosely glide it across the paper.  No intention in mind, let the paint flow any which way.  Later on if you want to add squiggles, doodles, designs and symbols, you can come back in with markers, gelatos, colored pencils, pastels, whatever you have. Remember that all of this is cut-able and paste-able if you decide to map your poem, essay or chapter  in another way.

Notice how you feel during and after this exercise.

paperroll

Creative Play and an Experiment

Contemplating how I begin, I realize that it doesn’t matter how I begin, only that I begin! With writing, I’ve found that I can intercept a story anywhere and start to write.  The following experiment is about testing this theory of mine.  That is, can you intercept a story anywhere and begin to write?  Let’s find out!

WRITING PROMPT:
Following are four borrowed, ready-made beginning sentences.  THANK YOU TO THE AUTHORS OF THESE SENTENCES!  Choose one sentence as your beginning sentence and write for fifteen minutes.  Choose another sentence as your beginning sentence and write for another fifteen minutes.

  • “He doesn’t ask anymore why this is called the broken heart trail.”  Mary Sepulveda
  • “When I was fourteen, I slept alone on a North Dakota football field under the cold stars on an early spring night.”  Louise Eldrich
  • “I travel for this, to unbalance my heart, to leave behind the litany of predictable in my life.”  Rohini Talalla
  • “Behind naming, beneath words, is something else.”  Susan Griffin

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Read both pieces aloud.  Do you hear your own writer’s voice even though the beginning line came from someone else?

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Things to notice:
–you borrowed someone else’s beginning line to tell your story
–this opening line became the jumpstart for your writing
–Even if you haven’t “slept alone on a North Dakota football field…” did you find somewhere to go with this line?
–what is your level of comfort or discomfort around writing using someone else’s beginning line?
–did this process work for you?
–(note:  This is only an exercise.  I don’t recommend taking another author’s line and using it in a piece you plan to publish unless you get permission and give full credit.)

WRITING TIP:
What is really interesting is inviting a friend to write with you.  Using the same sentence, it’s often surprising the directions in which each of you take the very same opening line.

STAND UP AND STRETCH BIG

bird

Mistress or Master of None?

You’ve heard this well-used phrase, “jack of all trades and master of none.”  This saying sort of piques me.  Being curious about so many things, I want to pursue every creative avenue that opens before me.

While it is true that Creativity Breeds…CREATIVITY and I appreciate the diversity of ways to be creative, it seems that if I really want to get better at any one thing, I need to spend time with it.  It’s that whole thing about learning a language best through immersion…move in with a family fluent in the language you want to learn.  Three months, they recommend, I’ve heard.

Years ago, I viewed a National Geographic Special, the Living Treasures of Japan.  This film is about Japan’s Living National Treasures…men and women artists who are paid a stipend to perfect their art over their lifetimes!  I remember thinking how brilliant that was. The individual artist (sometimes there were groups of artists that were supported) had the opportunity to develop his/her craft over the course of his/her life–the sword maker, the indigo producer and fabric dyer, the puppet maker, etc.  This was their lifelong field of study!  Imagine that…being paid for your artistic area of expertise throughout your life! (Most of us can only imagine that.)  Here is the link to the National Geographic film.  I found it to be very inspiring!    https://youtu.be/KujoKBGuRsM

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If you aren’t financially supported as you practice your art…you could choose to do a study of something you want to learn.  Stated simply, a study is a chosen immersion to practice a technique or form to help you develop a degree of mastery.   For instance, one online art class assignment was to draw and paint every version of a strawberry that I could imagine, using differing techniques & tools, but with the same theme–strawberry. In looking at these today, I see how each painting evokes a different emotion.

strawberry2

I’ve certainly done this with my writing. Especially when studying a poetic form that was new to me.  Or even the entire summer I spent learning how to make truffles.  No one minded eating my mistakes.

WRITING PROMPT:

Do you admire the way another writer uses descriptive detail in his books?  Or have you been intrigued with how a painter achieves perspective in her landscapes?  Is there some style of writing that takes  your breath away every time?  Or a shading technique that you’ve always been curious about in pencil drawings? Whatever it is, let your curiosity guide you to do your own study of something.   What would it be?  How much time are you willing to commit to this study?  Go for it!

ARTIST TIP:
This type of immersion has great rewards for you as the writer or artist, not to mention a bit of healthy self-pride at sticking with and developing skill in a particular area.

*The above exercise with strawberries is from an online art class presented by artist, Marla Baggetta.

Creativity Breeds…CREATIVITY

I have been writing since I was age 27… quite awhile.  In 2014, I grew tired of words. Words engage inner patterns and I found myself going in circles with my thinking and writing.  I abandoned words…for a few years.

In the place of words, I found intuitive painting.  For the first time in my life, I wielded a paintbrush as a tool for self-expression.  I was a total beginner!  I engaged in a wordless conversation with each new painting.  Playing with color, shapes, imagery and symbols, opened inner doorways that words alone had not.  I discovered that I had the courage to allow a painting to unfold and become what it wanted to become.  I also discovered that the creative process is the creative process regardless of the way it expresses.  While I came up against obstacles or blocks as with writing, I made marks on the canvas that moved me through them…and I found the flow.

In these few years of not writing, I realized that I missed words.  I enjoy creative writing and considered how I could marry words and images, poetry and paint. I realized, experientially, that one creative expression enhances the other.  Often you think of yourself as this or that…writer or painter or crafter. When, in fact, you have access to any creative opening out there at any time. You only have to choose it and then, as with writing, show up and practice it. Today, I plot and write a blog and I make other art. I knit or craft or cook a gourmet meal.  It’s summer here–I walk in the forests and beside the lakes and take photos.

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You broaden your creative repertoire, not necessarily to become a famous artist or writer.  You do this because it expands you (it feeds your hungry, vast and expressive psyche) and your writing.  It really is about giving yourself a playground to explore all sorts of other media of self-expression. These days, there are many online art classes…many wonderful teachers. The art journal, mixing words and images, is an interesting and fun way to engage with both words and imagery.

Walking this morning, I encountered a woman I hadn’t met before in this small community. A conversation ensued & suddenly she stopped and beheld a field of flowers. She said “I love the way the light and shadow are enhancing the colors.  Isn’t that beautiful!” My response was “It is beautiful. Are you a photographer?”  It turns out that she is a photographer.

When you draw (or paint or use color or sculpt or take photos), you notice things in a deeper way.    This way of noticing makes you privy to nuances of color, light, shade, line, form, texture, etc….these are translated into descriptive elements for the writer or poet. This can only improve your writing.

WRITING PROMPT:
What other creative activities inspire, expand and enhance your writing? Gardening, cooking, sewing, crafting, knitting, pottery, playing a musical instrument, woodworking, jewelry-making, doodling?

In your WRITING journal, draw something.  Sit down in front of an object of your choice and draw it.  Use a graphite pencil and draw the lines–no judgment.  Don’t erase.  If it’s not quite right, play with it until it feels complete to you.  Then write about your process of drawing…your feelings, comfort or discomfort, the lines and shapes, the object itself, whatever you discover as you draw.

strawberries.drawing

WRITING TIP:
Drawing develops your focusing ability as it challenges you to render what you see. Drawing helps you to really see something and notice things that you might otherwise overlook.

*The first online art class I took, BRAVE INTUITIVE PAINTING, was taught by Flora Bowley.

Remember Your Body (part two)

We call our bodies, vehicles…we drive them here and there and have great expectations of them.  We realize the body has needs and we give it sustenance–a snack on the fly, perhaps?  As writers or artists, we can become so engaged with our craft that we put the body’s tender loving care at the bottom of the list—maybe we’ll get to it–tomorrow.  For instance, that exercise program that you know is going to be good for you that gets postponed until…when?  Or that healthier way of eating to which you want to ascribe–one day…when?

I have driven, pushed and prodded my body.  I plant myself in front of the computer, at my writing desk or art table.  I expect–performance.  When I’m in the creative flow, it’s easy to forget that my body is an animal with actual needs.  Typically, I’m good at feeding myself healthy food.  I walk daily. I’m not so good at regular exercise or showing up for my tai chi class. Stretching, yoga, heart rate exercises, etc. These are areas in which I need to make a conscious effort.

What about you?  Do you have an exercise routine, a good eating regimen, an overall healthy, balanced lifestyle?  This is something a writer needs to organize into his/her daily routine.  It is intricately connected to your balanced writing practice.

Is your body your “horse and hound”?  May Sarton, the poet, wrote about her body in the following poem:

Question

Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do
when you are fallen
Where will I sleep
How will I ride
What will I hunt
Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
How will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
when Body my good
bright dog is dead
How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye
With cloud for shift
how will I hide?

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Read this poem aloud at least two times.  What is the author is saying in these few short verses?

Today, there is no writing prompt.  As a writer, contemplate how you care for your body’s daily requirements.  If you don’t have an exercise routine, how might you begin one.  Start off small; check in with your wise body to see which way it would like to move…that way you are more likely to stay with it.

Happy Body Day.

RememberYourBody2

Remember Your Body (part one)

Today, let’s begin with a…

WRITING PROMPT (1):
Sheila Bender, poet and writer, reminds us that “The body is the starting place for what we know.”

How do you interpret this quote (from Sheila Bender’s book, Writing Personal Poetry)? Write for twenty minutes. When you feel satisfied with your first writing, ask yourself “Is there anything else that wants to be said?”  If so, write some more.

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In our times, we hear talk of “cellular memory” or “body memory”.  Some say this is fictitious, an unproved theory.  My body has proven itself to be a wise guide. My body brought the awareness of early trauma to the surface of my psyche before I was cognitively conscious of it.  Then the work of healing began.  In laywoman’s terms, “body memory” acknowledges that the body has stored life experiences in its organs, bones, tissues and cells.  It can also refer to generational trauma that our ancestors carried in their cells which was passed onto us as their children. Without getting scientific (I don’t have that background), I’ve found that my body holds many stories and memories along with the old trauma. Something that many can identify with is when you get goose bumps or when suddenly you have an upset stomach in a tense situation. The body recognizes something and reacts.

In this regard then, the body is a field to be mined, a point of entry for your writing. Over the years, I have mined my body as a means to understand and heal myself and to integrate what has, in some way, been disowned.

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WRITING PROMPT (2):

Try this if you like, choose one part of your body (women sometimes choose their hips)–and give it a voice to tell its story.

Poem by Lucille Clifton entitled Homage to My Hips

“These hips are big hips.

they need space to 

move around in.

They don’t fit into little

petty places. these hips

are free hips.

They don’t like to be held back.

These hips have never been enslaved,

they go where they want to go 

They do what they want to do. 

These hips are mighty hips.

These hips are magic hips. 

I have known them

to put a spell on a man and 

spin him like a top.”

Today, thank your body.

 

Portals

Any writer, poet or artist seeks a portal, an opening, a place to begin.

Some mornings, I randomly pile books on my bed.  And I leaf through them, hoping for something to leap out at me.  When I crafted creative writing workshops, there was a certain magic that happened.  I had an idea that I was exploring and I’d open a book and the exact poem, quote or passage would find me!  That’s the thing, we never know where there might be an opening, a place to begin.  Yesterday, receiving news of a long-time friend’s serious illness, I was reminded that–ah, yes, sorrow and grief are portals.

portal2

Following are a few quotes, stanzas from poems and excerpts from various books:

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“The body is the starting place for what we know,”  from Sheila Bender.

“While I did watch, Brave Horatius did come and stand by my side.  He looked up at me. In his eyes were askings.  I made explainings.  I told him, The sky is filled with clouds, which look like ships”  from Opal Whiteley.

and then:  from Denise Levertov,
“The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer…”

or Allen Ginsberg:
“All afternoon cutting bramble blackberries
off a tottering brown fence…”

and then, Wayne Dodd:
“All day I have been closed up
inside rooms, speaking of trivial matters.
Now at last I have come out
into the night, myself a center
of darkness.”

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The thing is that any of these excerpts, stanzas or quotes could be a portal that leads you or me into whatever we’re going to write about next.  (Noting, also, the privilege that is ours by tuning into these various writers’ voices and getting a sense of who they are and what they value.)

Are you curious?  That is one of a writer’s greatest gifts–curiosity.  You discover a portal, you enter, courageous once again, asking your questions, finding your answers while staying open for the unexpected.  Do you feel, at times, like the solo journeyer, the seeker, out in the universe on this great writer’s quest?

WRITING PROMPT:
Look for portals today.  Carry your pocket notebook or handheld recorder to archive anything that comes to your attention as a possible portal for your writing. Choose from one of these possibilities and write for thirty minutes. OR, borrow one of the excerpts above as your portal to today’s writing.

Are you surprised by where you went in your writing today?

 

Ancestral Archaeology

As a writer witnessing your own family roots, there is always material available to you. Of course, you are treading on sensitive ground when you write about your family, your history.  Personally, it taps into your own unconscious triggers and ties.  If this is something you are writing for publication, then you risk offending a family member.

Honestly, I don’t know how to get around this “Catch-22“.  I need to write about where I’ve come from as part of my healing process, my journey back to myself.  And I’ve done so extensively in my journals and especially through my poetry.  Some of these poems have been published or widely shared. While they are not intended to offend anyone, I cannot predict how a family member is going to react.  My candid writing, could trigger a sibling or other relative.   There are laws in place around libel (written form of defamation of character).  If you are seriously considering publishing anything that could defame another person, it would be wise for you to consult a libel attorney for clarity.  Fine lines here.

Writers sometimes use camouflage (changing names, places, exact circumstances) in order to tell a story.  In the film, Deconstructing Harry, Woody Allen plays a novelist who uses his friends’ lives as fodder for his writing.  He is haunted by his friends’ reactions to this very blatant exposure.

All of that said, when I’m authentic in telling my story, the reader connects seeing that I’ve gone through something similar or at least identifiable to him/her.  I’ve made myself vulnerable to my readers.  Discretion and compassion go a long way in helping you decide upon how you choose to write about your familial connections.

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If you choose not to publish anything about your family, it is still important to do the work of excavating your own past.  Why?  Basically because it is through this excavation process that you will bond with the forces that make for good depth writing.  When writing is honest and evocative to the reader, it is usually because the writer has a personal grasp of human foibles, emotions and psychology.  Your family, your ancestry is your personal learning ground. It is through these ties and connections that you have learned about yourself and become who you are.

Inheritance
I am a child
of every story told
and untold.
Mythic memories
echo through my cells.
Known wisdom
pumps my heart
to nature’s cycles
–breath exchanged with trees.
Flesh–
recycled fragments of ancestors–
Great Grandma Nell, Grandmother Louise.
Bony structure
the skeleton of HIS-story
from which I was
mostly omitted.
Yet,
I endured.
I am daughter of my mother, Severina
who was daughter of her mother, Anna.
Noiseless, voiceless
meek rolls in fleshy woman’s form
whom I looked to
for guidance,
love.
Finding instead,
shame and oppression.
I am a blessed child
able to probe deeper
than their times allowed
tapping into the ancient stories formed
before women fell from grace.

Grandma,Mom, Oliver
Grandma, Mom, Oliver

WRITING PROMPT
How do you approach this Catch-22?  Do you write about your family history with the intention of publication?  Do you write only for yourself in order not to offend family members?  Do you tell a family story while disguising the exact characters & events?  Or, do you choose not to go into this territory? Take some time to consider this for yourself.

WRITING TIP
When diving into family history, set a healthy boundary for yourself.  If you’re too tender don’t go there.  When you decide you’re ready to navigate this territory, have support in place.  Respect where you are at.

Be gentle to yourself today.

 

 

 

It’s Not a Popularity Contest

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Authentic writing, telling the truth (as you see it) and being brave are a few of the requirements of being a writer.  Aside from showing up to the page regularly (daily?), the writer strives to connect with something deep within and then to impart what she or he discovers.

When my parents were in the last few years of their lives, emails flitted back and forth between me and some of my eight siblings.  Having eight siblings means that there are nine different perspectives on how to handle any given situation.  Within such a web of words and voices cramming the ethers, how do you retain and impart your own truth and integrity?  Especially when the topic is one with emotional impact?

I’ve found that doing something that centers me–a walk in nature, yoga, calisthenics, cooking, Tai Chi, whatever–helps to bring balance.  And then I write what feels true in the moment.  And then, I write it again and again until the truth is distilled to something that I truly believe is worth sharing.  I’ve learned not to expect to be understood by everyone.  Ears hear what they hear.  However, as a human, I have a multitude of opportunities to practice expressing myself on and off the page.  Life does seem to present these opportunities for me,  for you, for everyone to practice using our voices.

“And the speaking will get easier and easier.
And you will find you have fallen in love
with your own vision, which you may never have
realized you had.  And you will lose some friends
and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them.
And new ones will find you and cherish you…
And at last  you’ll know with surpassing certainty
that only one thing is more frightening
than speaking your truth.
And that is not.”
–Audre Lorde–

WRITING PROMPT:

Remember a time when you spoke what felt true for you.
How did it feel in your body to speak the truth?
Did you lose friends or lovers?  Write about it.
Conversely, remember a time when you didn’t speak what felt true for you.
How did it feel in your body not to speak the truth?
Did you lose friends or lovers or disappoint yourself?  Write about it.

Do something fun today.

 

Claiming Your Inner Writer and/or Poet

Once you truly own the fact that you are a
writer and wear the moniker proudly,
you have said YES to your writer self.

Several years ago, I moved to Mt. Shasta, CA.
I was establishing myself as a poet and writer
while working at a local herb & health store.
I worked three days a week and then
immersed myself in writing, poetry and nature.

One day, I stood in line at the post office and a co-worker who didn’t really know me inquired “So C.G. what do you do with your time when you’re not working at the store?”
There were several people standing in the line between us.  I replied softly “I’m a writer.”

Then he continued (as if he hadn’t heard me)…”laundry, cooking, gardening…”  I said a little bit louder “I’m a writer,” as he continued listing household chores…”sewing, washing the floors, baking…”

I said with more emphasis “I’m a writer,” and he continued with his monologue as if I wasn’t there…”picking up after people, clipping the rosebushes, vacuuming.”

I’d had enough!  I virtually shouted to the whole post office “I’M A WRITER!”

He stopped, looked at me, somewhat stunned and then said “Ah, what do you write?”

He did me a favor as he made me proclaim myself as a writer to myself and to the world.

now3

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WRITER’S PROMPT
Have you proclaimed yourself as a writer or poet or artist to yourself?  to others?
In writing, describe when you made that decision to proclaim yourself as such.  Own it!

WRITING TIP
Owning our innate calling is powerful and moves us in the direction of what we are here to do.  Things come our way that relate to this calling.