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Creative Process

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.

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.

Creative Process Fierce Encouragement (for Writing + Life)

Loving the Ebb

May 5, 2017

Sometimes I feel dry on the inside. I am not talking about vaginal dryness (though that is the first thing “dry on the inside” made me think of!). More like a brain dryness. A creative desert. For years, I’ve gotten a particular kind of headache I always find difficult to describe. The image that accompanies it is that of a ship run aground.

Do you know the book Amos and Boris by William Steig? It’s one of my favorite children’s books. At one point (spoiler alert), Boris, the whale, gets washed onto shore during a terrible storm. He is gasping and won’t live outside of the ocean for long. (Amos organizes some elephants to roll him back into the sea, so all is well for the friends at the end.) That’s how this dryness feels. Like I’m gasping and there is no water to swim in. Stuck. Dried up.

What does this have to do with anything?

I’m thinking about the question of inspiration. What is its source?

When inspiration is present, it’s like I’m a whale in the water: Powerful, mighty, swimming along in my element. When it’s not, I’m just an oversized body in the sand, waiting to die.

I know this sounds dramatic, but seriously it feels dramatic when the ideas are no where to be found. There is a kind of panic that threatens to set in. I have no energy. I’m lethargic. I’m all weight and no movement.

I can think and think and no amount of thinking will induce inspiration. Instead, I must change course. This means surrendering to what’s happening rather than trying to force it. And so my job becomes the surrendering itself, and below the surface of that, to trust that this too shall pass. Ideas will resurface, inspiration will return, a tiny mouse will alert the elephants who will roll me back into the ocean of creativity and energy.

This is all tied in with the ebb and flow of writing and of life for me — something I fight against and am slowly, over time, beginning to make friends with. An unlikely friendship, not unlike the one between a whale and a mouse in open waters.

The truth is, I favor the flow the way a mother is barred from favoring one child over another; she must — I must — find things to love about the ebb. And so I spend some time, as I lie there on the sandy beach waiting for help to arrive, looking at her more closely. She is quieter than flow, and moves more slowly. Imperceptibly, even. She’s not flashy and if anything, is easy to overlook.

But in my stillness, something happens. She starts to stir. I notice the intricate patterns of her being, ones I’d never seen before as I tango’d through the waters. She is beautiful in her subtlety. And suddenly, I am so thankful to be here, washed up on the beach. I know flow will return; she always comes running back, excited to show me what she has found in her explorations away from me.

This time, though, I’m going to keep ebb close.

Creative Process

Different Branches on the Same Tree

April 24, 2017

Anthony Delanoix

Holy Wow.

I came back from a walk to do a few errands in town to an amazing horoscope. But before you read it, I have to tell you what I was talking to myself about on the walk.

Lately I’ve been noticing that I need to start making time each day where I’m not working, not in front of the computer, and not taking care of other people. In other words, time to just be and to be in that kind of unscripted space where ideas arise. Or maybe they don’t. But the point is to make the space to connect with myself. Mani suggested I take an hour a day for this — rather than falling into that big either/or trap of thinking “I need a week’s vacation somewhere beautiful with no obligations.”

This need is arising especially in relation to my work right now; I keep having that nagging feeling that I need to be listening for something, and I can’t really tell you what it is. (Hence the need to listen.) But that is not going to happen by itself. I have GOT to make time to do non-work things that bring me joy and connect me with my sense of joy, purpose, and creativity. I am not a machine.

Yesterday morning, I did just that and took a nice walk in the woods while Pearl was at Hebrew school. The point wasn’t that I would get all still and blissed-out and lightning bolts of inspiration would strike (though damn, don’t you love it when that happens?). More that all of that mind-noise is a constant in the background, like a radio that you can’t turn off where no station comes in clearly, and unless I do things that are grounding and joyful — walk in the woods, have coffee with a friend, just sit and doodle or read a book — I won’t be able to get the volume down low enough as to be able to hear my own self, or soul.

Not shockingly, during my time in the woods, I took some pictures and sent myself a few random thoughts via text that later formed the basis of a newsletter (you can read it — and subscribe — here, by the way!). And when I finally did sit down later to write and work, I felt so much more present, able, ready, and glad to be there. It’s amazing how even when you’re self-employed, you can forget that you GET TO DO THIS and turn it into the very daily grind you left behind.

Anyway, I digress. Just now as I was walking home after stops at the copy shop, CVS pharmacy, and post office, I was thinking about comparing and how it feels and tastes. It feels small, tight, mean, and yucky. It tastes like a loose filling — bits of metal in my mouth that I can’t wash out, no matter how many times I rinse. Then I thought about how not comparing feels: Spacious, beautiful, connected, and easy. It tastes like jam made from fruit that was picked that very same day.

I passed a tree that was just starting to show some flowering buds along its many branches. I looked at its trunk, the biggest branches, and then the increasingly smaller ones from each of those. I thought about my life and work as a branch, and other people’s lives and work as other branches. And whoa. I know this isn’t an original metaphor, but something clicked so completely for me. It was amazing.

My branch and your branch? They are dependent on the same strong trunk, the same healthy root system, the same soil, the same rain, the same sun. One vibrant branch is an indication of a strong system. And if I think my branch and your branch are separate, I am operating from an incredibly limited perspective that is based on pure illusion. Neither of our branches would even exist without the whole tree! What’s good for you is good for me, and vice versa.

I furthered this personal revelation out loud — quietly, mind you, but out loud nonetheless, as if often my habit while walking and working something out. It felt so so good to come to this today.

And then I got home and made a turkey sandwich with avocado on a whole wheat pita (yum) and read this horoscope. (OK, now you can read it!)


Capricorn & Capricorn Rising

Wednesday’s new moon wants me to feel it. Cozy up to it. Revel in the realness of it. Joy is my healer. Pleasure is my therapist. Amusement is my muse.

The inner-revolution that I am currently experiencing is one that needs a whole lot of happy to make it happen. Any amount that I can cultivate and allow myself to fully experience is a win. I do so consciously. I carve out time to explore what brings me bliss. I dedicate time to all things that delight my senses. I work at creating a life filled with wonder.

I am not afraid to feel good. And when I am, I help myself work through it so that I can feel the power of healing my self-denying tendencies. I work through it because I owe myself that much. I work through it so that I can honor the sacrifices my ancestors made to get me here.

I laugh, I love, I live for the benefit of my entire family tree. From my roots to the fruits yet to have ripened.

I use Wednesday’s new moon to feel the pulsating power of my creative energy. I use Wednesday’s new moon to give in to what that force wants to create next. I use Wednesday’s new moon to say yes to the projects that ground me in life-enhancing expressions of joyful healing.

*The new moon in Taurus, occurring on April 26th, is a new moon to manifest with. There hasn’t been a moon this open to interpretation in a very long time. Read more


The bolded lines? Um, yeah. So exactly where I’m at right now. Taking time away from the things you HAVE to do, the producing, the responding, the planning, the tangible, the to-do lists, and making time for the things you WANT to do is a crucial aspect, at least for me, of being a creative person. In fact, rather than detracting from my work, having a full life always, always enriches it.

We need to do our part in tending the soil of the tree, rather than expecting the flowers on those branches to bloom all by themselves. And when I tend to “my” soil, the truth is I’m tending to yours, too. We are all connected. Everything else is pure illusion.

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