Category: writing

Do Less, Be More.

 

My beautiful and talented friend Sienna Creasy. www.siennayoga.com

My beautiful and talented friend Sienna Creasy. www.siennayoga.com

The yoga teachers I know have a certain way about them. They carry themselves with a practiced calmness, entering the warm studio with beatific smiles. They greet their students generously, like cult leaders, or with a laid back hippie vibe. “Welcome, yogis!” Their exclamation points land softly, and we practitioners gather our focus and close our eyes, before we have even begun to practice, feeling nurtured by the sunset colored walls, the solidity of the floor, the faint air of incense, and most of all, the fact that we are here, sitting still, doing apparently nothing. Ninety minutes of vinyasa later, we leave physically and spiritually refreshed, having reaffirmed the capability of our bodies and experienced the blessing that is turning off one’s otherwise incessant mental chatter. We’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, and we’re happier for it.

One of my favorite teachers is Zak, a handsome and guileless man who balances laughter with eager seriousness as he demonstrates increasingly complex physical contortions. Like all good teachers, Zak seems to take real joy in his class’ success; his appreciative and drawn out “Yeahs” are directed at individuals and at everyone. He’s also got the best playlists.

A typical class at my studio, Shakti Vinyasa, begins with a few minutes of meditation or setting an intention. An intention might be a single word or small phrase to guide one’s practice, such as “creativity,” or “open heart,” or it might be more directed toward a personal goal, such as improved relationships, in which case the intention might be something like “accept others” or “be authentic.” In any case, setting an intention is a brief act of awareness of the mind that the yoga practitioner can somehow both continue to make use of and immediately let go, as class begins, and awareness leaves the mind and moves to the body and the breath. The teachers urge that when we notice our minds beginning to wander, for example, that we are suddenly trying very hard to achieve a pose or evaluating our success, we return to the breath, keeping our focus there for as long as possible. As Zak says, stop doing. Just be.

It may seem a contradiction in terms. Imagine you are balancing on your right foot, your hips rotated skyward, knee bent, clasping your left foot above and behind you while your right hand stretches toward the floor: this is ardha chandra chapasana, or the sugarcane variation of standing half moon pose. The instructions you hear are complex: root all four corners of your foot down; lift the center of your chest to open your heart; find space between your right ear and your shoulder. In other words, there’s a lot to do in this pose, and all poses; however, if you’re really doing yoga, you’re doing the poses with a focus on the ease of your mind, letting your body be what it is capable of in that moment, not judging yourself, even when you fall. Just come back in.

John Tierny seems to get at the the same idea today in his NYT piece, “A Meditation on the Art of Not Trying.” At first glance, the title might seem to smack of the sort of excuse-as-answer a projectless writer like myself might give in response to the question of “what are you working on?” I wish that, like others in my MFA graduating class, I were halfway into writing my second book of poetry, were working toward a self-imposed deadline of 75,000 words by March on my memoir, or even that I had some sense of direction as a writer; that there was somewhere I knew I wanted to go with my words. Maybe some day, those will be my answers. For now, I’m here, today, sitting at my desk, writing this. I’m taking notes in journals. I’m writing letters to friends, and meeting nearby friends at coffee shops to sit with warm mugs and laptops and to practice being a writer.

Though I haven’t seen the results of my writing practice yet, I do believe that eventually, if I keep it up, I’ll find that I write more words I like than words I don’t. Maybe some of those words will even be recognized by others as good or useful. I can believe this because I’ve seen the way getting up for 5:30 a.m. track practice yields greater endurance on the long runs and more power on the hills; how twelve hours with a guitar callouses my fingers enough to play B chords without muting the resonance of any one string; how yoga poses like arm balances and head stands, once seemingly outside the realm of possibility, are there for me, in the surprise of my newly capable body, after twenty, or forty, or ninety attempts.

Practice makes perfect, as they say. But Tierny’s article illustrates a more nuanced sensibility with regard to achieving goals. Tierney explains the work of University of British Columbia professor Edward Slingerland, who argues that since the dawn of civilization, humanity has been striving toward “effortless action,” such as that achieved today by top athletes and charismatic business professionals. According to Slingerland, central to the concept effortless action, or “wu wei” (“pronounced oo-way”), in Chinese, is its instinctive, or inherent quality. As Tierny explains, “You cannot try, but you also cannot not try.”

Tierney describes how the tension in this concept played out, in ancient China, between the Confucians and the Taoists, the former of whom, according to Tierny, followed a “practice makes perfect” model while the latter eschewed striving as evidence of a lack of authenticity. To illustrate, Tierny quotes the Tao Te Ching, taking, as he says, “a direct shot at Confucius”: “The worst kind of Virtue never stops striving for Virtue, and so never achieves Virtue.”

Sixteen centuries later, in my tiny bedroom office, both versions of wu wei seem true. If you don’t try, you’ll never succeed. Eighty percent of success is showing up. Practice makes perfect. But also: runners run. Writers write. And the breath, as long as you live, will always be there, a reminder of how possible it is both to do and not do, and an invitation simply to be.

How To Be a Writer on Social Media

We live in a bold new era. To become a successful writer, one must learn to navigate the unsteady currents of social media in order to discover, reach, and build an audience. No matter how groundbreaking your novel, a strong online presence gives you a leg up on your competition. I’ve outlined below a few basic strategies, including a few examples, for cultivating and maintaining a social media presence.

Getting short stories accepted at literary magazines is still a form of currency for finding an agent and a publishing company for your novel. Remember to keep your followers aware of any success, no matter how small. For example:

  • “My Short Story,” has been accepted for publication by Literary Magazine
  • “My Short Story,” has been published online by Literary Magazine
  • The issue of Literary Magazine with “My Short story,” has been published in print
  • In case anyone missed it, last month “My Short Story” got published.

Short stories may be a more pure form of fiction, but eventually it comes down to your novel. Consider sprinkling your news feed with some of these:

  • 100 pages in and feeling great
  • Whew! That’s 20,000 words in just two weeks #onaroll
  • Finished a new draft #couldthisbeit?

Even if you haven’t been working on your novel, you don’t want to stop the flow of information. Here are some examples of good generic posts about the writing life:

  • Nothing better than a good morning spent writing
  • So glad the muse returned. Never leave me again
  • Working on this story for months and just figured out the ending #epiphany

Social media isn’t just useful for getting the word about your novel. You can also crowd source for specific details:

  • What kind of music would a punk girl love in the early 80s?
  • What brand of suits would a hedge-fund manager in Connecticut wear?
  • What size tires would a ‘67 Buick Skylark need?

Read more »

Short Poem & Metamodernism

#IAMSORRY

Have you read the three-word poem by Jesse Damiani, published by Seth Abramson at Ink Node?

Seth Abramson has more about the poem, metamodernism, and Shia LaBeouf at Huff Post.

Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker write in their article, “Notes on metamodernism”:

One of the most poignant metamodern practices is what the German theorist Raoul Eshelman has termed ‘‘performatism’’. Eshelman describes performatism as the willful self-deceit to believe in—or identify with, or solve—something in spite of itself.

They also discuss a reemergence of romanticism—a neoromanticism—and self realization and enthusiasm and irony.

Yesterday the weather turned freezing. Even though I had to scrape ice from my windshield before I could drive to work, I fondly imagined hot chocolate and snuggling with my family under a blanket, watching a movie. A romantic thought with some enthusiasm to it.

Yesterday evening, after I finished a long day of work, I stepped out of the elevator to the sight of an unkempt older man reclining in a chair in the lobby without pants or shirt, wearing a stocking cap, unzipped jacket and well-worn boots, stroking his genitals, staring straight at me. Even now I can’t unsee all of that flesh and that direct look that didn’t seem to hold any sort of message in it at all. The cold is the most likely reason why he chose the lobby of my building for his performatism, ironic in light of my earlier enthusiasm about activities related to the weather.

In the 28+ hours since, I’ve considered the plight of the mentally ill and homeless, my own morals and need for feeling safe and respected, and the expectations and boundaries surrounding my day-to-day life. I am aware that my understanding of metamodernism barely exists. Can one be living and loving a metamodern life without knowing it?

Photo courtesy of LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner, copyright the artists.

Let’s Talk About Tao Lin

Like everyone in literary land, I’ve been following the events of the past week with a lot of interest. The allegations of rape and abuse have been absolutely abhorrent.

Tao Lin’s case—and the reaction to it—has been compelling. As everyone by now knows, Lin has been reviled for sleeping with a much younger paramour and subjecting them to an incredible amount of abuse. Clearly, what he did was reprehensible and he’s essentially admitted as much.

The open question seems to be—what now? Is Lin banished forever? Should he be?

Read more »

Screenwriting Is Easy, and Other True Lies about Craft

Read a screenwriting book and you'll feel like the king of the writing universe.

Read a screenwriting book and you’ll feel like the king of the writing universe.

This post is going to be short so I can get back to my screenwriting. You read me right. My husband and I have started writing screenplays. I’m diving deep into my first one literally as I type this. (Ideas are always brewing, you know.) Somehow, by reading Save the Cat! and collaborating with my husband, I’m not only coming up with ideas quickly, but…wait for it…I’m having fun! I know. It’s too good to be true. But here are a handful of reasons I think this is happening:

  • Brainstorming works: We’ve been encouraged (by the screenwriting books we’ve been consuming like candy) to come up with as many ideas as we can and not worry about totally fleshing them out, so we’re freed from the hard stuff (at least at first) and able to revel in the glory of what we think are genius movie ideas.
  • Walking collaboration is magic: We talk details as we walk to the store, and it feels more like planning a slumber party than writing a story. We talk motivation, action, conflict, how to ramp up the conflict even more, and how to get to the climax gracefully. And when we get home, we’re so energized, that we have to just write it all out. And we do! The lesson of the walk-talk is that collaboration can make writing more fun. I suppose you have to have a good collaborator, though, so I’m lucky there. My dude’s full of good ideas.
  • Helpful guidance is a sage: The books we’ve been reading (besides Save the Cat! there’s also Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, which is as much fun to read as it is to follow) give some great practical advice, including outlines and examples that are easy to understand and follow.

This isn’t to say that as soon as we get past the outlining phase all the lust won’t have evaporated, but it is to say that I’ve never had such a good time writing in any other genre, and I wonder why…

The Neighbors

Today is the seventeenth day. I didn’t mean to begin counting but after the tenth day, I couldn’t help but notice. It’s been seventeen days since I saw any of my neighbors. In theory, there should be five humans, one for each of the five doors besides ours in this building on the second floor, but of course,  it could be more. It might not seem all the strange to you, that I haven’t seen a single soul in the hallway outside of our apartment for seventeen days, but as an unemployed person who spends most of her days going in and out, it’s becoming more and more bizarre. When we first moved in, I saw the man across the hall at least once a day as he was taking his small dog for a walk. He always spoke, or least nodded, and he seemed like a good omen.

But I haven’t seen him or anyone else for seventeen days. I know that I’m hypersensitive to neighbors. A few months ago I was living in the motel my boyfriend was renovating. Our neighbors changed daily; it was important to take note of who was gone and who was still there for personal safety reasons. And yet the upstairs neighbors at the motel, who apparently practiced their WWE wrestling moves before bed each night never left. Even before living in the motel, I was working and residing on a college campus. Read more »

Storytelling as Community, as Healing

After Asa’s great post about how storytelling affects our decision making, I started thinking about how storytelling could play a role in the careers of people who aren’t writers. I found this great video from storytelling.org, the website for the Center for Digital Storytelling, about forensic nurses and digital storytelling. The mission of the Center for Digital Storytelling is “to promote the value of story as a means for compassionate community action.”

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9XxVo13RQ0[/youtube]

I know many of the contributors to this blog have taught, or currently teach, creative writing. My question for those with this type of experience is: In what ways has being a promoter of storytelling brought about change in your life or the life of someone else?

Stories Sway Our Decisions

Last month, I attended a writers conference where Lisa Cron presented a master workshop on how neuroscience discoveries can help your story telling (and your writing). I had to leave early for an appointment, but Ms. Cron’s ideas about the importance of story telling and how stories influence our everyday decisions stuck with me.

So, I looked her up when I got home and found a TEDx talk by her. The video is a little more than 17 minutes long, but worth watching just for the share pleasure of discovering that stories–and therefore writers (hyberbole added by me)–are more important than we think.

In Ms. Cron’s words:

“We turn to stories not to escape reality; we turn to stories to navigate reality.”

and

“If you can’t feel emotion, you can’t make a single rational decision.”

[youtube]http://youtu.be/74uv0mJS0uM[/youtube]

“The Power of story is yours, use it wisely.”

Writing Horoscopes

Cancer (June 22 – July 22)
Set aside some time this week to watch people at the park, the café, or the doctor’s office waiting room. Go wherever your current tale is set. Pay attention to the movements, appearances, and conversations that make these people real. “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature,” Cancer Ernest Hemingway reminds us.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)
Leo, your comedic timing will be spot on this week. Make sure that every pun leaving your fingertips is working in service of its larger meaning this week. As lioness Dorothy Parker said, “Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.”

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)
Virgo Roald Dahl once said, “A writer of fiction lives in fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not.” Don’t let that fear stall you this week, Virgo. Instead of opening your Word document and experiencing stage fright, tackle that electric white page like a gardener would as he tilled his spring beds. Seize the opportunity to plant, grow, weed, and nurture your ideas.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)
“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil,” admitted fellow Libra Truman Capote. He was speaking of revision. Libra, this week the scales have tipped in favor of cutting, adding, and rewording rather than creating new material. Work through your past drafts dramatically on the first pass and judiciously on the second.
Read more »

Optimism in the Cycle of Failure

I’m not sure when I realized that I’m a fairly optimistic person. I know I began to identify optimism as an integral part of my outlook on life when it became clear that I was going to be laid off last fall. And when the lay off happened, I had grief but never really lost optimism and confidence.

During that period I was looking for quotes—inspirational, humorous, self-affirming—when I found this one from Helen Keller:

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope and confidence.

But there are moments when optimism feels like delusion. Moments when I ask, where does this faith in self come from? 

When faced with failure, there is that briefest second when the idea to give up sparks. But then my confidence snuffs it out so unequivocally. Doubt presses in to blow some air to revive the ember; it says, you failed and there is no certainty you will ever succeed. But Optimism, Hope and Confidence punch Doubt squarely in the mouth, so it crumples to the ground. They each take a turn at grinding the already dead spark into the dirt with their heavy boots and then kick Doubt in the stomach a few times, for good measure.

Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots

Yes. I just characterized Optimism, Hope and Confidence as a gang of bullies. Here’s why.

I appreciate the power they evoke, the ability to persevere. But I think there is value in all emotion, even that moment of defeat. I don’t necessarily want to wallow in defeat. But my gut is telling me that it is important to let it happen, that there is value in not shutting it down quickly and completely.

And then Doubt comes back in bruised and playing Devil’s advocate; it says, if you wallow, you could get stuck; better to keep moving forward; don’t look back. Doubt is consistent in its ability to play any and all sides of the field.

So, what’s my point? Read more »

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