Essentially Yours

We begin learning by imitation.  This is necessary for survival in the world into which we are born.  Then, comes the differentiation…the recognition that you are neither your mother nor your primary caregiver.  Waving your hands in front of your face, you begin to realize that these are your hands and under your control.  The very beginning of individuation!

In writing and art, you might begin by imitating, copying techniques, practicing methods, mixing colors as directed, learning the language, advancing your use of tools and studying your genre of choice, etc.

As you further your education, what is bursting to emerge is that which is essentially yours.  How do you weave together all that you’ve learned and then, in which direction are you going to take it? Many artists speak about style.  Some artists fear being copied.  Other artists are flattered at being imitated. Every artist wants to receive credit for their creations.

I do think that there is within each one of us is that which is essentially your own. When you are in the copycat stage, there is an awareness that this is only the springboard that is going to take you to your very own style.  Style can be seen as the way in which you uniquely put the various constructive components of your chosen art together.  There is  a certain something that emanates from your writing or art that comes to be seen as your style.  At first, perhaps, you yourself can’t see it because it is so basic to you. I’ve found that others often recognize my style of  painting before I do!

In your daily life, there is a way you go about things. From the way you greet the day, to the foods on your shelf, to the arrangement of furniture in your home or how you dress.  I doubt that any two individuals do any of these exactly the same. Through experimentation, daring and trust–whether writing, sculpting or painting, –you are going to find a way to express that which is essentially yours.

WRITING PROMPT:  How do you perceive your writing or painting to be essentially yours?  What do others notice when they read your poetry or prose?  What do others point out when they look at your art?

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A Few Craftsperson’s Tools

As writers, our initial task is to get something down on paper, uncensored.  If we want to make a piece “public”, or refine it for our own satisfaction, then the process of crafting begins.

I often think of crafting as sculptors have described:  setting the sculpture free from the marble.  So it is with writing.  We have extraneous words, not the precise word, unclear thoughts, a lack of cohesiveness.  In refining his or her work, the writer employs some basic editing tools in order to set his or her piece free of what is superfluous.

  • Have nearby: a dictionary, a synonym finder and a rhyming dictionary (if you are rhyming poetry)
  • Look for imprecise words…ask yourself if there is a better word.  When you find the precise word, you typically have an economy of words.
  • Notice if the words you’ve chosen are interesting and varied.
  • Have you used figurative language effectively?
  • Look within the structure of a sentence and ask yourself “Can I say this better?”
  • Read your piece over paragraph by paragraph or verse by verse.  Within each paragraph or verse, look for unnecessary repetition.
  • Remember the beginning, middle and end segments of a paragraph.  Is the paragraph cohesive unto itself?
  • Does one paragraph or verse flow into the next?
  • Have you said what you want to say?
  • Is there a conclusion?
  • Get in the habit of giving your poem or prose piece a title.

These are  a few crafting tools that you can employ, one at a time. This list is by no means a comprehensive one.

WRITING TIP:
This type of crafting is a word-by-word, line-by-line, paragraph-by-paragraph, page-by-page process. Don’t attempt this when you are tired.

NOTE:  There are downloadable editing programs that you can find online though I haven’t personally tried any of them.
Ultimately, if you are publishing, hire a professional editor for refined and expert editing. They have their very specific tools and aren’t emotionally attached to what you have written.

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Poetry as “The Message in the Bottle”

Edward Hirsch referenced poetry as “a message in a bottle” to be found and opened at some future date by an anonymous reader.

When I paint a piece or write a poem, what or who do I have in mind?  What am I tuned into?  It varies.  Sometimes, as with this painting of the polar bear, I followed an intuitive flow that started with marks on a canvas. From these marks, three disco dancers emerged and quickly shape-shifted into three polar bears at the North Pole; then to a single polar bear with the Aurora Borealis as a backdrop.  Finally there was this solitary polar bear in a meadow.  The journey of this piece wasn’t decided by me ahead of time; what it wanted to become was disclosed as I stayed with the process.

What is the message of this painting?polar2

One cold and snowy winter’s night, I felt that existential loneliness.  I looked at my polar bear painting on the wall & I wondered what it felt like to wander, a solitude, across the melting ice floes of the North Pole.  What would it feel like to have your habitat disappearing beneath your feet?  What would it be like to be made for this icy world and to witness your world dissolving?  As the ice floes are melting, does this then predicate that the polar bear becomes extinct or does he metamorphose in some way to accommodate this once familiar, now changing world?

And so I wrote this sonnet to the polar bear, for myself in my loneliness and for the unknown finder of the message in the bottle.

Lonely
© by Christine O’Brien

It’s cold and I’m alone again at night.
The stars so far away, no comfort there.
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting, does anyone care?

Across the tundra the northern lights dance:
radiant colors blast the starry sky.
If we change our ways, would he have a chance?
“Global warming; couldn’t be helped,” we sigh.

We’re safe in our cozy habitats, home.
The borders of our lives within these walls.
The far arctic circle, his place to roam
outside of our range, his frozen cry falls.

What’s it to us, a whole species demise?
Could it have gone better if we’d been wise?

For Your Contemplation:
I’ve talked about following your passion when writing poetry, prose or creating art. Sometimes, a fleeting feeling seems to govern your life. How do you respond to this? When feeling lonely or sad or some other uncomfortable feeling, I desire to be done with it as soon as possible.  I don’t want to dwell there.  Yet, I’ve learned to allow it the time it takes.  The truth is that we all feel lonely, sad or in grief at times.  To allow it is the courageous response…to create from it is to engage the common human thread of loneliness that each one of us experiences.  Your deep transitory feelings can be expressed through poetry, prose, painting & other creative venues.  You cannot decide who is going to pick up your bottled message on some lonely beach.  You can only hope that when they do, they find what is inside personally useful, portent, potent and perhaps powerful enough to induce change for the good of all.

Meteors? I Meant Metaphors

Creativity is a powerful engine.  Its desire is to propel your writing or artful pursuit forward.  Creativity is like an early summer strawberry–you crave its sweetness.

Within this brief paragraph are three examples of creative writing tools:

Creativity is a powerful engine                Metaphor

Its desire                                                  Personification

Like an early summer strawberry            Simile

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In the previous blog, I introduced simile. Today’s blog is about metaphor which is described as a direct comparison (without the words like, as or as if). I think of simile as having a sort of buffer as it makes the comparison. Whereas metaphor is direct.  It doesn’t hem and haw.  It tells it as it sees it.

With simile, My lover’s eyes are blue like the sky.  Change this to a metaphor and My lover’s eyes are the blue sky. Do you get a sense of the difference with this comparison?  In the first comparison, the simile, I am comparing only the color.  In the direct comparison using metaphor–his blue eyes and the blue sky are one and the same! I can get lost in this vastness.

lover's eyes

Poet and author, Edward Hirsch believes that “there is a radical difference (or should be) between saying that A is the same as B and saying that A is like B.”  He says that “Metaphor works by condensation and compression.”

For me, metaphor is bold! It makes daring statements! Ones that I probably won’t question because they come across with such authority.

WRITING PROMPT:
If you don’t feel you have a grasp of metaphor, you can certainly google it to get more examples. That said, look at the similes you wrote the other day based upon a feeling. Consider what those similes would sound like if you dropped the words like, as or as if. Do they work as metaphors?  Try it out. Could you write bolder comparisons to make your metaphors even stronger?  Go for it.

 

 

Romancing the Writer and Artist (in you)

In an earlier blog, Julia Cameron explained Artist Dates. According to Julia, once-a-week or once-a-month, you take yourself out on a date–a fun and inspiring solo date.  In this post, I’m talking about daily romancing.  Refreshing your writing space from time to time, breathes fresh air into your creativity. Buying fresh flowers for that empty vase and setting them where you can rest your eyes on them between writing bursts is uplifting. A pretty desk pad, a curtain that is light and airy on the window or wall above your desk. Or an abstract dreamy painting to gaze off and into.  A new scented candle.

Romancing yourself is a way of inviting self-love into what you do. Typically, we write on the side or paint on the side or do crafts on the side. We don’t consider that it is a worthy occupation because we’re doing it on the side and perhaps we haven’t made any money at it (well, not yet; maybe one day?).

Regardless, romance yourself.floralballerina2

Another writer once suggested dressing up as if you were, perhaps, going out on an actual date…one to impress…makeup or tie, perfume or after-shave, jewelry? or whatever you do that’s extra special to be your boldest, most beautiful or handsome.  Then go to your writing space and “write!” I think this was a way that he or she addressed writer’s block. He/she swore that it worked!

Honestly, I don’t do this enough for myself.  I have writing clutter which I occasionally, in a burst of Virgo energy, put in order.  It doesn’t stay in order for very long.  However, it feels good in the moment like right after you’ve first washed the kitchen floor.  Yay, good job!  Hey, who walked through here with dirt on their shoes?  Suspicious eyes.

Seriously, I’m thinking about leaving a dark chocolate truffle on my writing desk once I’ve cleared it and placed a vase of fresh flowers.

WRITING PROMPT:
What can you do today to refresh and reinvigorate your writing life?  What sort of romancing works for you? You are definitely the hero or heroine of your life and deserve to be fully loved and appreciated, wildly romanced (especially by yourself!) as you pursue your craft. In your journal, describe what romancing the writer in you would look like.

Poetry–Purveyor of Universal Themes–is it?

Initially, I wrote poetry for myself.  It was often cathartic.  Ultimately, I believe, poetry is meant to be for a larger audience.  Poetry is intimate and reflects an individual’s perceptions, experiences and feelings. However, inherent within poetry is that oft-stated truth that “the personal is political.” Poetry marks the human journey. While it relates the poet’s personal journey, poetry often reflects the climate sustained by a larger cultural belief or practice.

As a woman writing about not feeling safe, for example…I look across the landscapes of time and place on the planet and I witness how women have not felt safe for generations over many different cultures.  (I mean within their very homes and communities.) As a poet, I capture my unique experience of feeling unsafe and like a hall of mirrors, the image is reflected ad infinitum.

Therefore, poetry joins us to one another.  The poet is, in this way, a herald of the times.

stitchingtheworld

Writing Prompt:
In your journal, write your own reflections on how the personal is political for you.  In what way is your poetry (or writing or art) a herald of the times?  Does your writing, in some way, reflect a larger, universal theme?  Do you believe that your poetry or writing is “meant to be for a larger audience?”

Writing is a Solo Task…

Typically, you write alone. Occasionally, you might write poetry in a circle.  Or take a creative writing class at the local community college where you do some in-the-classroom writing. Or participate in a writing workshop where you write with others and share ideas. However, writing really is flying solo.  Are all writers introverts?  I think that there is a necessary tendency towards inwardness.  A writer emerges from his or her writing cocoon, goes out into the world, harvests material and then returns to process and create.  I envision the spiral symbol as something I ride.  I go up and out and broaden my experience.  I gather and take in information.  I send it downward and inward for processing and integration. In some way, I have been changed and this is reflected in my writing.

Julia Cameron and others encourage the writer to sit in a cafe, on occasion; to change up the places where you write.  And that’s fine, good and fun.  You’ve added variety and spice to this otherwise solitary journey.  However, writing remains for me a solo task.  I have to then be comfortable with my “aloneness”.  To commit to writing is to accept this.

That said, how do you grow a support team?  There are definitely writer’s groups that you can join.  Or you can form one around the particular genre that is yours.  You can check with your local library or Chamber of Commerce to see what might be available where you live. Are any of these a fit for you? There are online writing forums where a writer might find support and be able to ask questions. If you take an online writing course, a Facebook community often forms around the course and sometimes the participants continue to connect once the course is complete.  For myself, I spend enough time at the computer and think it would be better to belong to a physical group rather than another virtual community.

Also, having a personal support team in place is helpful.  Even if this team isn’t composed of writers, gather around yourself those who appreciate you as a writer–those who foster your commitment to writing and support your creative goals.  I do think it helps if those who make up this intimate circle have a commitment to an art or craft themselves. They are going to have a better understanding of the creative process, of what you experience as a solo writer and the type of support that you need.

WRITING PROMPT:
Take some time to consider how you feel supported (or not) as a writer (or artist) pursuing your craft.  Write about this in your journal. Is there some other way in which you would like to be supported on your writing journey? Write this down.  Do you have any ideas about how you can get the support you need and desire?  Note these also. Consider how you can creatively find ways of getting these needs and desires met.

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Free Writing and Then, DO YOUR RESEARCH

Let go on the page, fly free, get it all down, follow the flow.  What fun!

However, ultimately, even if it is a personal experience that you are writing about, you’re going to have to do your research.  There are so many resources out there on virtually everything.  Often, you don’t have to leave your computer desk to gather what you need to flesh out your writing. But then, how boring that can be–spending more time with Mr. Google.

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One summer day, when my daughters were young, I thought we should find out whatever we could about, of all things, Sasquatch.  We lived in San Francisco, the beautiful big city by the bay.  Our chances of encountering a Sasquatch (who prefers deep forested areas far away from humans), were slim. Unless BIG FOOT suddenly craved salty air and the ocean, we weren’t likely to have a personal encounter.

Regardless, for some unrecalled reason, (maybe we had just seen the film Harry and the Hendersons) we began our expedition. We took the BART train to the old San Francisco Public Library on Larkin Street in the Civic Center to research Sasquatch.   Arriving at the library, we were faced with volumes and volumes of books, floors, stairs, elevators, the smell of old books…indescribable.  In those days, we looked through card catalogues and jotted down Dewey Decimal Numbers, book titles, authors and anything with the words Bigfoot or Yeti or Sasquatch.  We gathered and stacked books on a table and leafed through them, finding photos, the stories of personal encounters, descriptions, etc.  Afterwards, we knew a little more about Sasquatch and our city library .

The point being, when you are researching, certainly, you can stay home at your computer desk and discover tons of things.  However, why not find a way to make whatever you are researching into some sort of expedition. Why not? You don’t have time?  We think that, but is it true?

Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist Way, talks about the Artist Date.  The purpose is virtually not to have a plan other than enjoyment and an openness to discovery.  The outcome is that it gives you a break and refreshes your creativity.  It’s best to let Julia explain the Artist Date below.

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While my suggestion for an expedition is more intentional, as you do your research, you can engage an Artist Date openness to delight and the spirit of adventure. Remember, you don’t have to do it all in a day–unless you are on a deadline, I encourage bringing fun and leisure into your expedition.

So no writing prompt today.  Find time to go on a research expedition for something that you are writing (or an Artist Date, or both).

See what there is to discover!

 

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

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.

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