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?

koala

 

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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Autumn Harvest

appleCycles and seasons come and go.  We are deeply connected to nature’s rhythms whether or not we give them conscious attention.  No matter where you live or what your age, you have an experience of Autumn.  In the northern hemisphere, we have entered the Autumn of the year while the southern hemisphere is in the flush of Spring.  As writers, we are aware of the metaphorical aspect of any season.

For yourself, consider what the harvest time means to you personally.  Living in the mountains, I’ve come to know the harvest intimately.  The land I live on has old fruit trees.  The first trees to fruit in early summer are the cherry trees.  These are followed by the pear trees.  Finally, in September and October, the apple trees are ready to be gleaned. If the apple crop is hefty, you will find me in the yard picking apples or in the kitchen processing them.  Frequently, there is an abundance of fruit to be shared with friends.

I often hear this comment from young and old alike, “How fast time is going!” Has it always been this way?

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Thomas Cleary translated a book of verses written by Wen-siang, a lone refugee, Buddhist poet, pacifist and feminist who lived in the 13th century during the time of the Genghis Khan Mongol raids.  The book is titled Sleepless Nights…Verses for the Wakeful.  I’ve excerpted the following poem:

My Sixtieth Year
by Wen-Siang (translated by Thomas Cleary)

Already sixty,
so much I’ve been through.
Wealth and rank
are like floating clouds;
changing and disappearing,
unworthy of regard.

My body’s like a pine

on a winter ridge,
standing alone
through the cold.

My mind is like the water

in an ancient well,
thoroughly unruffled
all the way to the depths.

My path
is the ancient way,
especially hard
in the present day.
Not easily discerned
are right and wrong;
I sigh and sigh,
sigh and sigh.

WRITING PROMPT:
Wen Siang uses simile in the first three verses (the bolded lines) to illustrate his state of being in his sixtieth year; it seems that he is taking stock.  In the fourth verse, he makes the direct comparison (metaphor) in the line “My path is the ancient way.” I invite you to use Wen-siang’s poem as a copycat poem.  That is borrow the form and supply your own content.  You can begin your poem with your current age.  For each verse, alternate the leading lines…”My body’s like…My mind is like…and My path is…”

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Whatever the season, whichever hemisphere, savor your time on planet earth.

Personally, I Ponder Personification

I mean, does a tree really desire to have human qualities attributed to it?  Then, does a tree even have desire?  Can’t a tree stand alone, sovereign, without humans endowing it with our virtues, vices, qualities or behaviors?

Maybe not!  Maybe writers and poets use personification as a means to comprehend what is termed “other”.  By comparing something to ourselves, perhaps we think we have an understanding of what it is or isn’t.

According to poet and writer, Mary Oliver, “Personification is the term used when one gives a physical characteristic or innate quality of animation to something that is inanimate…”  She gives an example from poet, James Wright–

“I bowed my head, and heard the sea far off
Washing its hands.”

A second definition for personification is from poet and writer, Frances Mayes:  “An emotion or something inhuman, such as a mountain or love or a tree, is given human qualities.”

A few more examples:

  • from Stephen Spender, “…whispers of wind in the listening sky…”
  • from William Sharp, “…the sleeping sea…” OR “…And in the soft ear of Spring, light voices sing.”
  • from creative soul and nature sprite, Opal Whiteley, “I danced on a log…as the wind does play the harps in the forest.”

WRITING PROMPT:  Choose something in nature with which you feel a connection.  Animate it with human qualities. Use poetry or prose, whatever makes you feel more at ease.  Does this type of comparison come easy to you?

cropped-castlelake11.jpg(photo of Castle Lake by Christine O’Brien)

“The sky smiled at its reflection in the lake.”

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.

 

 

Smile…It’s Simile Time

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We’ve talked about image detail, right?  It is supported by well-chosen adjectives…ones that have sensory appeal.  Image detail, character description and action in a story are also enhanced through the effective use of simile and/or metaphor.  Let’s begin with simile.

Simile is an effective creative writing tool falling under the general heading of Figurative Language or Imagery.  According to author/poet, Frances Mayes, from her book The Discovery of Poetry, “A figurative image establishes connections between things we normally would not associate.”  It is “an explicit equation…using the words like, as, as if” to make comparisons. For example, we’ve all heard the similes “hungry as a horse,” or “timid as a mouse.” These are similes and they are also clichés. Clichés are oft-repeated, overused similes. You want to avoid clichés. Inventing original and effective similes is a fun art.

WRITING PROMPT:
What is a predominant feeling for you today?  If nothing comes to mind, borrow one from your experience…like being in love, or feeling angry or happy, tired or weepy.

Practice writing at least half a page of original similes emanating from your feeling. If your feeling is anger–“she was as angry as a disturbed hornet’s nest”. If the feeling is love, “she was in love like a bear with her fist in a honey pot.” Don’t forget to include the words like or as or as if in your simile.

Work with only one feeling…and that way you can get fully into the swing of both your feeling and writing your similes.  One day, I was feeling very angry and I wrote a full page of similes expressing what my anger felt like.  By the time I got to the bottom of the page, I was laughing.  I felt very clever having come up with so many original similes and I shifted the energy of anger in a creative way.

See what happens for you as you try this one out.
Have fun!

Collecting Quotes

quotes2.jpgI seek, at times, (often, daily, always?) insight, clarity, truth.  I quietly quest as I go through the day.  I gather experiences, encounter others, learn lessons (sometimes reluctantly) and discover myself.

Over the years, I’ve collected quotes, though not stashed them in any orderly file. (I should, right?) I sometimes post one or two on my bulletin board. Mostly, I jot them down on a piece of notepaper. Typically, they get sandwiched between piles of papers–ideas that stand alone or that I might develop at some elusive future date. Regardless, when I happen across them as I sort, I am often touched, again, by the words of another.

Looking online, it is obvious that I’m not the only one who appreciates other people’s wise words.  These gems float on the internet, are sprinkled throughout books and magazines, graffitied on walls, in literary articles, etc. We read them in store windows or on hand-crafted signs.  Hallelujah to the immortal quotes that remind us of higher human values or that help us broaden our awareness or that become a lifeline in a moment of need.

As a writer, a quote can inspire me or find its way into something I’m writing. It can be food for thought that expands my view of the world.

Following is a quote from Frederick Buechner from his book entitled Now and Then, 1983.  

“Listen to your life.  See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness; touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.”

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I came across this quote many years ago, yet today, I find value in it.  My understanding of it is that the body, on it’s amazing sensory path, is a worthy vehicle and when I’m intimately connected to it, I can be transported to the very center of my being over this life of great variety.  How do you interpret this quote?

WRITING PROMPT:
Have you been collecting quotes to support, influence, enliven, expand, enhance and inform what you’re writing? Are they easily accessible? Have you contained and organized them or are they scattered? Do you plan to use any of them in your writing?

WRITING TIP:
To discover the correct formatting of quotes within the body of your work, you can Google the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). This is a great resource (there are others). You can also find out how to properly document your resources. And so much more!

Depending on the genre in which you are writing, there are various style guides–MLA (Modern Language Association), the Chicago Manual of Style, CSE (the Council of Science Editors) and the APA (American Psychological Association).

Writing as Revelation

Writing has and continues to reveal myself to me.  As I write, I continually rediscover who I am.  Someone who is not constant. Someone who undergoes continuous transformation. Someone who can broaden her perspective. Forever becoming.

How many times in my life have I tried to pin myself down to a certain characteristic, belief or desire? How many times did I find that this is impossible?  As I’m faced with each new circumstance, I discover more of both myself and larger life.

With writing, I invoke the never-ending journey of self-revelation coupled with personal evolution in a world that is always in flux.

The writing I do reveals what I value.  It engages my sense of humor.  It discloses where I feel afraid to probe.  And, when I share my writing, I can only wonder what it awakens in someone else.  Here’s the thing, we make our writing public, release it to society, and others make of it what they do; and take from it what they do.

Doctor Seuss himself was a revelatory writer. I’m guessing that he had to dig deep to write effectively, and in rhyme with wisdom and humor. His messages are for anyone, regardless of age:
“YOU’RE OFF TO GREAT PLACES!
TODAY IS YOUR DAY!
YOUR MOUNTAIN IS WAITING,
…SO GET ON YOUR WAY!”

The more I write on a certain topic, the more that is revealed to me.  Then, the more I have to “reveal” to others.  dreamcatcher

Destiny
© by Christine O’Brien

Lace and ribbons
decorate the frock.
“Forget your dreams.
Get back to the kitchen
and bake me a pie!”
Banish your fantasy of
happy couples and
floral bouquet apologies.

Re-enter the Goddess–
no partial woman is she!
So, you are somebody
after all.
Tell us what you know.
Emergence is what you requested–
sit down and let’s talk over tea.

A wedge of lemon?  Honey?
Ah, the bitter with the sweet.
This you must experience
for yourself.

Lace and ribbons,
wedding day vows–
disguise your sovereign destiny.

(This mixed media dream catcher was inspired by artist, Tracy Verdugo, in her Paint Mojo E-Course.)

WRITING PROMPT:
For your writing journal:  Consider what your own writing has revealed to you about yourself.  Does it show your values, your process, your personal evolutionary path?  How is it connected to the whole of life? What do you think?

What mountain is waiting for you today?  

 

Leading Questions

When I paint, when I write or when I get stuck, I ask a leading question. Where do I go from here?  What would my protagonist do or say in this circumstance? Where does this poem want to go?  Or what color wants to come onto the canvas? Which line or mark can move this piece forward?  What if…I do this or try that? Then what? For it isn’t always flow, but sometimes a stumbling step, then another tripping step and then a fumbling move forward. Even a dreaded mistake can take you to the next level. It’s all part of it…this grand, unpredictable creative process.

As a beginning painter, my desire was often greater than my ability.  What did I do with that?  I continued the questioning.  And sometimes, I took a brush and black paint in frustration and swirled lines across my painting in process. Frequently, to my surprise, something new emerged from which I could move forward.

Basically, you become CONVERSATIONAL with whatever you’re doing–writing or painting. 

Life itself is really about “I wonder what is next?”  Because as much as we think we’re in familiar territory, we don’t know what the next moment might bring.  It is about fully trusting the unfolding creative process.

It also helps to see what you are doing as practice. You cannot know what you don’t know.  Through questioning, you remain open to discovery.  The faces that I drew and painted two years ago laid the platform for the faces that I draw and paint today.  I had to begin somewhere and to be patient with my development as an artist.  I spent time with faces. Today, I actually enjoy the challenge of drawing a three-quarter turned face.  I steeped myself in images of three-quarter turned faces–eyes, noses and lips in that profile position.  I memorized them, traced them, tore them from magazines, drew them, made tons of wonky faces.  And I learned from my mistakes.  I often asked, “What happens if I do this?”  These very words imply trial and error…and successes too.  And, I’m not there yet!inner2 (1)

WRITING PROMPT:
Revisit a work in progress that has been stalled (writing, painting, drawing) and begin a conversation with it.  Ask leading questions and respect the response(s) that you get. Allow the uncertainty and take the faltering steps as you move your work along. Allot yourself a sufficient amount of  time with this and see how leading questions work for you.

 

Image Detail

In the film, The Bridges of Madison County, Francesca (Meryl Streep) tells Robert (Clint Eastwood), “Robert, please. You don’t understand, no one does. When a woman makes the choice to marry, to have children; in one way her life begins but in another way it stops. You build a life of details…”  The thing about movies is that you see the details when watching a film.  They don’t have to be described.  However, if you’ve ever written a screenplay, you laboriously spell out every single thing from the sounds of a creaky door to “slouching in a front row torn upholstered seat in a moldy smelling theater.” Nothing is assumed…each tiny detail is duly noted.

Telling details actually means DON’T TELL ME, SHOW ME WITH YOUR WORDS!

In his book, Let the Crazy Child Write, author Clive Matson discusses in detail several ways to bring image detail into your writing. It is the details that capture our attention and imagination.  To bring the experience to a reader through our writing, we recapture the details.  It is the details that place the reader where your story occurs and it is the descriptive details that shows the reader who your characters are (along with their dialogue and actions).
Clive Matson gives a few examples of image detail: “The worn green fabric on the end of a diving board, a piece of chewed gum in the boss’s ashtray, the pearly scar on a lover’s neck.”  Recalling a detail, the entire memory returns. How many of you have had that experience with a smell, say cinnamon, which suddenly transports you back to a childhood memory–french toast with cinnamon and butter, a special treat for a Sunday morning breakfast.  Or, remember that song from the past you overheard at the supermarket the other day that returned you to a time and place in your life when you were making out with your first “love”.  When you are writing your story, include that detail; perhaps words from the song as they drift in and out of your experience.

I am going to refer you to Chapter One in Clive Matson’s book, on “Image Detail”.  He explains image detail in a precise, descriptive, engaging and educational way.

WRITING PROMPT:  What is a flashback song for you?  One that when you hear it transports you to another time and place?  Claim the song and a memory that it evokes and write about the whole experience in vivid detail. Paint the picture with words. Who were you then, who were you with, what article of clothing was a favorite?  Were you at the beach in southern California, in a windstorm on the high desert, in the back seat of a car–what kind of car?  Was there a smell that prevailed or a noise that intruded? Imagine your reader and take him/her there using sensory (of the senses) words and make the experience come alive.

Ah, time travel!