Creative Process Writing Groups

The Only Writing Advice You’ll Ever Need

May 24, 2017

The following is a guest post by Joell Stebelton, who is writing a children’s book. She originally posted it as a freewrite in this month’s writing group (The Republic of the Body) and I knew immediately it was something I wanted to share here. Thankfully for us all, she said yes!

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Butt in Chair (BIC)

It is your practice that brings the pages to you. No writing book, no MFA, no writer’s conference, not even a writing mentor can give you the pages.

You wanna write a book? I’ll tell you what I learned after all of the above… well, except the MFA. (But I swear I’ve bookmarked at least a dozen universities.)

BIC

It’s the only advice you need. You don’t need shelves of books outlining someone else’s process, even if that someone else is a published author and you’re not. You don’t need to sell your mother’s Hummel figurine collection on eBay to fund a shwanky low-residency master’s program in creative writing.

Yeah, writer’s conferences can give you practical information on submissions, finding agents, and what to bring to your first book-signing. But no presenter can tell you what happens next in your story,  and while the most encouraging writing coach on the planet can help you come up with a plan, it’s up to you and you alone to get the writing done.

There is no magic formula.

Except BIC.

Butt in chair.

That, my friends, is how you write a book. Get your butt in a chair… or a treehouse… or a chaise lounge. Just sit down and, for the love of all that is holy, write.

When the itty bitty shitty committee shows up with their usual discouragement about the quality of your work, write.

When the phone rings,
when the dogs bark,
when it’s raining,
when it’s sunny,
(especially when it’s sunny),
when you’re feeling inspired,
when you’re feeling uninspired,
when you’re in a zone,
when you’re out of the ballpark,
when you’re wishing the Muse would remember your address,
when you’re tired,
when you’re sick AND tired,
when you’re thinking you should take up jiu jitsu instead,
write.

Write. Even if it’s just three sentences. Show up and write. And eventually, months or years later, you’ll have a first draft. A shitty first draft, perhaps. But a finished first draft. The end.

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Joell Stebelton lives in the woods of northeast Ohio with four dogs, a cat, and a woodpecker who is currently drilling holes into her library window. She’s a mama to an Ohio State Buckeye and a daughter who spends more hours at the barn than at home. She’s a writer, a reader, a yogi, and a closet nun.

Creative Process The Body

Who Am I and What’s for Dinner?

May 22, 2017

Image: Nancy Vala Art + Words

Some days, I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’m not tuned in at all — to the body, to other people, to my angels, to my kids, to my wife. I wonder if I’m missing something significant and important. The proverbial boat.

I glance over at the sink full of dishes and sigh. There’s no boat, of course. I know better. But that vague sensation — am I missing something big? — tugs at me like a little child, or a dog who wants to go out but then when you get outside, just stands there and looks at you with an expression that says, “So? Why are we out here?”

Ask me to “tune in” to the body and I draw a blank. The question shoots me straight into my head, where I’m likely to get all cerebral about how to do that. Thinking about how to do anything is a sure way to not tune in, in fact.

But on the mat, tuning into the body just happens. There is no thinking about it. Inhale arms overhead, slowly lower down, fingertips to floor, exhale to downward dog; even writing these words steadies my breath and reminds me that writing isn’t the only practice.

I find myself wondering about things like who I am and what’s for dinner in the same thought. The mat is a merciful place where both questions can wait.

When I really tune in, what do I find? A child with the sweetest smile, whose first book she named Bad Days for Jennifer at age five. A dreamer, literally, who remembers and reviews multiple dreams every morning before waking. Trains and forests, memories of other lifetimes. Someone who has left the body and returned to the body many times.

Where are the animals? A nest, a den. Inside of this body is both child and parent, hunter and gatherer, one for whom there can never be enough deep silence but who was known as a kid for chattering nonstop. A mockingbird. A thousand languages to learn.

She opens her eyes and thighs and mouth and out rushes sound, sound kept for years inside a cave no light could reach. Who is this body? I don’t know, but I want to her hear sing.

The Body Writing Groups

Survival and Sunlight

May 19, 2017

“Life seeks fulfillment as plants seek sunlight.” ~ B. K. S. Iyengar 

{a 10-minute freewrite from today’s prompt in The Republic of the Body group}

My first wrinkle. Literally, the very first one that appeared. Mexico, the winter of 1997. My skin had turned a copper color and I walked everyday up and down those hills. I read Frida Kahlo’s autobiography and dreamed in Spanish and wrote poems about midwives and dogs howling and the moon.

Winters in northern Vermont. Short days. Brilliant blue sky How the sun was a gift then, a welcome visitor from far, far away. Don’t go, I’d cry, don’t leave me here alone. I don’t know what I would do without you.

The jade in my kitchen. It began as a small cutting from a thirty-year-old plant from my mother’s house. It is outgrowing the black porcelain pot where it sits in a kitchen window, south-facing, growing like crazy, always reaching for the light.

Cowering. Imploding. Moods. Black holes. Yoga mat. Hamstrings. Strap. Block. Pulling myself up and out of the vacuum that threatens to hold me hostage. Twelve minutes. It actually helps.

We are hardwired for survival, but just about everything else about our brains is a result of training and can change. My wife tells me we are a different person every single second, we are changing constantly. We think, “This. This is who l am.” We hold ourselves hostage to what we think we want and who we think we are and what believe to be true.

Lay it all out there. Not out there for the world necessarily but out there for yourself. One thing at a time. Question all of it. Is this mine? Do I still have a use for it? Did I inherit this and does that obligate me to keep it and cart it around with me to the end of my days, however long that may be?

Tension in my throat and upper chest. I feel the tightness. It is signaling me: “Hey, you. Yeah, you. Make some room for me today.” I make some room. Just a little, just enough. An opening where I can crawl out and have a look around the rest of the body, the wider landscape of whatever is happening within and without. Be the observer, I tell myself.

Constantly seeking safety and shelter will lead to atrophy. Of the spirit, of the mind. I do not want to shrink with time into a scared, small version of myself.

Space is internal; this much I know. I move towards it the way the jade traces the sun from east to west, the way a young woman once walked so close to the sun, the way a young mother once walked her babies bundled in snowsuits, the way a seeker craves silence and a song seeks its singer.

The Body

Tangled (new poem)

May 18, 2017

Photo: Krista Mangulsone

Trickle of sweat between breasts
down the insides of thighs
underarms, lower back — I wake
this way every single morning,
tangled in soaked sheets and you.

This, the same body I lived in-
side of when a boy, Maceo,
pointed out my pert nipples
during gym class, when I showered
at camp and stole glimpses
at the older girls — the way
their bellies rose ever so
slightly between hip bones.

I thought I was comparing
all that time. I thought I wanted
their bodies, but not like that —
I thought, if only I looked like
that, like her or her or her.
In fact, I did want their bodies
tangled around mine, lying
around someone’s bedroom
listening to Joni Mitchell
or Phoebe Snow or Bob Dylan.

If I could go back and disentangle
the messages I received then,
the ones that made queer weird
and gay something not even
on the radar, if I could go
and tell my gorgeous young self
something, it would go
like this: Eat the food, kiss the girl.
Fill up on pleasure and meat
and skip a class or two and
you don’t have to be the cold,
quiet moon.

Anyway. I don’t go back, I don’t
say these things. I don’t tangle up
with how things were because
there is no rewriting history, only
learning from it — or so they say.
They say a lot of things. Maybe
that was the problem —
their voices so loud in my head
that I could not listen
to my own poetry unless
I was all the way alone,
and solitude swallowed me like
a snake eats its own tail,
like a story the digs its own
burial plot.

And so I rise now,
sweaty, hair tangled, legs tangled
with a woman who knows me
from the inside out.
I rise and step into the shower
and run my hands over where
my belly rises now between hip bones,
breasts round, skin soft
from the wear of years,
no longer comparing myself
to who I wasn’t but coming,
little by little, finally after all these
tangled years, all the way
into this being.

It’s uncomfortable
and downright squirmy sometimes —
old angry voices from the past
don’t like being tossed
to the wolves. But I do
just that, make an offering
of what once ruled my life,
all of the demands, the vicious
not-enoughness that plagued
me into chronic restlessness.
I watch as they tear into
the tangle of sinew and bone
and artery, standing back
and seeing what will become
of all that I am no longer am.

Creative Process Writing Groups

Feast On Your Life: A New Group for Not Doing

May 15, 2017

“Morning Musing” by Shelby McQuilkin | shelbymcquilkin.com

LOVE AFTER LOVE

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

~ Derek Walcott (1930-2017)

All this striving is killing us.

I’m not exaggerating.

It’s killing our spirits. It’s killing our creativity. It’s killing our ability to dream, to let our thoughts wander, to discover, to be awed. We’re so busy being busy that we are afraid of what will happen if we stop. Just stop.

Everything has to have a point. Be a means to an end. Result in something — an outcome, a benefit, a purpose. Our to-do lists are subtle oppressors we hitch ourselves to. We feel restless when we relax, if we even remember how. Even the things that once brought us joy become chores, or guilty pleasures. We speak of “stealing” time — to garden or nap or write. We can’t sleep. We check our phones first thing upon waking and last thing before sleeping. I’m talking about myself. I’m talking about you. I’m speaking in intimate generalizations. I’m concerned. I’m yearning.

“Simply put, creativity happens when your mind is unfocused, daydreaming or idle.” ~ Emma SeppäläScience Director, Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education :: read more

I want to lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling and have it count.

I want to walk in the woods after rain, inhaling deeply the scent of wet earth, ducking under dripping branches, stopping to look at the patterns of bark and stone.

I want to take a fresh peach in my hands and spend a few minutes touching its fuzzy skin, lifting it to my nose, and examining its colors and creases.

I want to put on a record and really listen to it — not as background music but as the thing I’m (not) doing.

I want to sit and feast on my life, as the late, great Derek Walcott memorialized in his timeless poem, Love After Love.

But how can I remember how to do this, if I don’t make time each day to “take down the love letters from the bookshelf,” read them one by one, without setting a timer, without punching a clock?

I want my writing to emerge from a place not of doing, but of being — but how will that ever happen if all I do is do?

That’s where you come in, and a brand new group.

Our lives are too precious to miss. But that’s exactly what happens when we feed the addiction of proving ourselves and how we “spend” our time, when we feel we must justify time off — and even the fact that we call it “time off” is so telling, isn’t it?

Come greet yourself.

Feast on Your Life

What it is: 
A two-week group where our focus will be on practicing the powerful art of being idle.

Each day will bring a different suggested activity, along with related readings and other supportive content. We’ll gather in a secret Facebook group to share check-ins about our experience as we go.

The focus here won’t be on writing as much as on taking some time each day to step out of the routines, the requirements, and the responsibilities — into a space that prizes a slower pace. Having nothing to show for yourself will be cause for celebration. Doesn’t that sound refreshing?

What it isn’t: 
Steeped in any particular tradition or dogma. We will draw on ideas from many sources and well as from each other’s experience.

Sign up if you: 

  • Are a chronic overachiever
  • Rarely put down your phone
  • Feel plagued by the need to prove something
  • Regularly sacrifice creativity on the altar of productivity
  • Long to feast on your life but secretly believe that’s impossible
  • Berate yourself for committing to things and not following through
  • Get nostalgic for some former self that used to listen to music, read poetry, and take walks

What are some example of “not doing” things?

  • Lying on the floor
  • Taking a slow walk with no destination (or fitbit, for that matter)
  • Napping
  • Listening to music
  • Saying no without a reason
  • Returning to something that once brought you joy
  • Sitting on a bench in the sun
  • Just calling to say hi
  • Doodling
  • Taking an extra long bath or shower
  • Eating a peach and calling it a feast
  • So much more… to be discovered together

Dates:
June 5-16

Cost:

With the intention of this group being widely inclusive, the cost is on a sliding scale. Simply use the button below to pay any amount been $49 and $149.

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