Word-nerdlings, I’ve been virtually storm chasing Hurricane Sandy for days, and by last night I was glued so tight to my computer screen you couldn’t have pried me off with the Jaws of Life. The only time I stopped watching live news coverage, following tweets, and texting my loved ones was to bake cookies and clean.
I assure you, I’m not that domestic.
Cleaning is what I do when I can’t react outwardly to something that’s knotting me up inside. That energy needs to go somewhere fast. Sandy was so incomprehensibly big, so incomprehensibly in the wrong damn place for her nature, so incomprehensibly close to people I love, so incomprehensibly a clear sign of things we keep choosing to ignore, and so incomprehensibly powerful against all our best defenses that I just couldn’t wrap my brain around her.
So I cleaned. And baked. And watched more nutso reporters get beat up on camera by winds and rain really hoping I wasn’t about to witness an on live camera tragedy.
I’m still pretty boggled. Everyone I know on the East Coast is safe, even if some are without power. Nearly every one of them dazed and awed and sorting out what this aftermath means for them personally, for their neighborhoods, and on the larger grand scale of things.
Sorry if this feels way off track for you, but my mind stalled somewhere around land-fall last night and hasn’t budged since. Never mind that this is the third destructive storm in a year that has hit close to home. Places these kinds of storms are not supposed to hit.
Yet, here you are you sweet crew of dogged bloggers and writers. Many of you are standing on the edge of a different kind of storm – a fury of fingers on keys for National Novel Writing Month. Just one more day stands between you and the crazy. I haven’t committed yet as there are some exciting developments in my life I may need to attend to, though I’m ready to go as far as time will allow.
Use this word to start your novel, add to it, or as an outside exercise to get your juices flowing. You know the deal, drop and give me 100 on:
P.S. There’s a collaborative-y surprise coming up for you soon! Make sure to keep up on Facebook!
Yet if I dig, there’s always a theme on my mind. Lately I’ve been wondering a lot about all of you, and why you write. Seriously, what is your purpose in writing? Where does it stem from? What are you hoping to accomplish?
I started writing as a child. Comically horrible stories that couldn’t measure up to the authors I loved, but nevertheless I dreamed of one day writing a story everyone would love. In high school my English teachers told me I had a talent for writing (even as they groaned and yowled over my perpetual misuse of commas, colons, and semi-colons), and by my senior year I was one of three students in a creative writing course that was created exclusively for us. (That’s kind of wild now that I think about it.)
Despite the urgings and the yearnings, I chose to go a more analytical and less artful direction in life to satisfy that part of my mind that thrives on problem-solving. The need to write didn’t go away. It was redirected to journal writing, articles, papers, and yes, blogging. I think in sentences, and as Lord Byron said, “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”
That quote is why I write, in a nutshell. I don’t know if I have a novel in me, or if I even want to write a novel. It’s simply how I communicate and keep from going mad.
But enough about me, what is it for you? Maybe it’s like Sylvia Plath’s need:
“I want to write because I have the urge to excel in one medium of translation and expression of life. I can’t be satisfied with the colossal job of merely living. Oh, no, I must order life in sonnets and sestinas and provide a verbal reflector for my 60-watt lighted head.” ~Sylvia Plath
Tell me in comments about why you write, what drives you, and where you hope to go with it. Or write a post about it and leave the link in comments.
As for 100 words, your prompt this week is from Cloud Atlas which I’m still reading for a book club:
I’m not talking about the potential rejection letters, or even the necessary process of exposing myself and getting a negative response. Those things are scary too, but those I can deal with — at least in that magical place in my head where theories live.
It’s not about me.
Writing takes serious backbone. Fiction or memoir, we write from what we know and that means the people we love, or loved at one time, are bound to show up in our writing. So too our feelings and thoughts about those people — everything from their physical appearance to their personalities.
We write about truths. Our truths, universal truths, the truth of things, and people, and emotions.
No matter what I write, someone, somewhere is going to feel a little exposed, put on the spot, and maybe even hurt.
I don’t like hurting people.
Some writers take a hard line with this. I couldn’t find the quote, but one writer says something to the effect of, “if they didn’t want to look bad in my book, then they should have behaved better”.
I prefer this more nuanced conversation on the topic between Cheryl Strayed (a.k.a. Dear Sugar — and if you don’t know Dear Sugar, oh my god, GOOGLE HER NOW) and Sari Bottom. An excerpt:
One thing I will say is that you don’t know what will happen if you write the truth. You don’t know what will happen if you decide to write what you feel really compelled to write. You think that there might be this consequence but there might actually be a different sort of outcome, and it could be a positive one.
Sari calls this column, “Interviews with Writers Braver Than Me”. Oh, how I relate.
My point, dear word-nerdlings, is that if you’re serious about writing, about digging through the bones and finding your true voice, then you’ve got to tremble a little. You’ve got to sweat about what others might see of themselves, about what truths you’re exposing (even in fiction) and what that means for you, and others. If you’re not trembling, you may not be doing it right.
I want to see you sweat this week. You word, of course, is:
It seems last week’s 100 Words writing prompt was a bit of a bust. Some of you seemed to have simply missed the posting and Tara reported that it didn’t show up in her reader. I checked Feedburner to see if anything seemed awry, but everything looked fine. Do tell me if my posts are not showing up in your reader though – and for that matter if you experience any other technical problems/glitches.
I can’t promise I’ll know how to fix them, but I can promise you I’ll lose much sleep trying to figure it out.
Nevertheless, the show must go on! As promised we’ll continue to focus on writing voice throughout October. Have you ever taken note of the interesting phenomenon that once you focus on a topic, it seems to show up everywhere? Call it magic, or call it paying attention.
Lessons from a Young Musician
Last Saturday we went to see Seth Glier live at a local music house. I didn’t know a thing about Seth before going and was happily bowled over by his enthusiasm, his talent, and his fantastic lack of cynicism. His voice was quite unique – a bit high and nasally for a dude – but it was his persona and delivery that kept the crowd glued to his performance.
Had to look him up when I got home. Found some videos from early in his career and when I compared to the performance I had just seen I knew the topic for finding voice this week would be about practice.
Here’s Seth in 2006. I’m pretty sure he was still a teenager at that point.
And here’s Seth now.
Ok, yes, the second is a professional music video, but it still illustrates how much Seth’s “voice” and style has evolved, been refined, and polished. And live? He was even better.
The lesson – practice.
Artists sweat and bleed for their craft, day in and day out. For good reason. The more you do something, the more effortless it becomes, and when the tool and the mechanics of the thing can get out of the way of creativity, you enter what psychologists call a state of “flow”. Here’s one way that’s described:
According to pioneering research by Anders Ericsson at Florida State University in Tallahassee, it normally takes 10,000 hours of practice to become expert in any discipline. Over that time, your brain knits together a wealth of new circuits that eventually allow you to execute the skill automatically, without consciously considering each action. Think of the way tennis champion Roger Federer, after years of training, can gracefully combine a complicated series of actions – keeping one eye on the ball and the other on his opponent, while he lines up his shot and then despatches a crippling backhand – all in one stunningly choreographed second. (New Scientist)
For more on Flow I’ll refer you back to the same blog post I linked to last week. Basically, “flow” is where every artist and craftsman/woman wants to be. It is the state from which your very best can, *ahem*, flow.
*Side note – I studied cognitive psychology in college and focused a semester or two on the work of positive psychology and Flow, and it’s a point of pride that I know how to pronounce Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s name. If we ever meet, you can ask me. I promise you, it barely resembles the spelling.
Your Task Should You Choose to Not Wimp Out
Aside from the obvious, “just write dammit”, we’re going to continue from where we left off last time with Kurt Vonnegut’s #3 on his 8 Tips on How to Write a Great Story.
Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Only this time, write the same 100 word story from another character’s perspective. If you didn’t write last week, then write two this week. In fact, go hog wild and try to write the same story from the perspective of multiple characters/observers. The point is to stick with the same thing but work it from different angles.
Now go on, write something.
*P.S. Since I’m a day late, I’m keeping this prompt open until Sunday at midnight.